The Sports Network
By David Coulson, Director of FCS Football
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 29th, 2 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: McAndrew Stadium (17,324) -- Carbondale, Illinois. Surface: AstroPlay turf. Television: None. Home Record: New Hampshire 4-1; Southern Illinois 6-0. Away Record: New Hampshire 5-1; Southern Illinois 3-2. Series Record: First meeting. Conference: New Hampshire - Colonial Athletic Association; Southern Illinois - Missouri Valley. Sports Network Ranking: New Hampshire (10); Southern Illinois (9). Playoff Record: New Hampshire (3-6); Southern Illinois (7-5). Nicknames: New Hampshire Wildcats; Southern Illinois Salukis. Coaches: New Hamsphire - Sean McDonnell (69-48); Southern Illinois - Dale Lennon (9-2).
GAME NOTES: The New Hampshire-Southern Illinois matchup offers a classic offense vs. defense matchup, as New Hampshire enters the contest fielding the nation's 15th-ranked offense (412 yards per game), while Southern Illinois counters with a defense that rates 32nd (318 yards per game) among the 118 FCS teams.
Southern Illinois is second to only Montana in consecutive playoff appearances with its sixth straight berth. The Salukis will meet a New Hampshire team that is third in consecutive appearances with five.
New Hampshire will be the third-straight CAA opponent the Salukis have faced in the playoffs. SIU beat Massachusetts in the quarterfinals last year before losing to Delaware in the semifinals.
Southern Illinois, coached by Eddie Robinson Award nominee Dale Lennon, has been one of the surprises of the season. The Salukis lost seven starters on offense, including quarterback Nick Hill and 1,000-yard rusher John Randle and five on defense. But Lennon has had a smooth transition in his first year.
The emergence of quarterback Chris Dieker (1,920 yards, 15 TDs, eight interceptions), along with Payton Award candidate Larry Warner has helped spark an improving offense. Warner has rushed for 1,172 yards, 10 TDs, ranks first in kickoff returns (34.4 average, three TDs) and fourth in all-purpose yardage (184 yards per game).
Dieker has spread the ball around in the passing game, with Damian Sherman (29 receptions, 14.4 average, five TDs) being his favorite option, while Marc Cheatham (26 catches, 13.4 average, two TDs) offers a nice compliment. Cheatam has good physical size, at 6-2, 213-lbs, and could offer matchup problems for the UNH secondary. The Salukis' offense (358 yards per game) hasn't put up huge numbers this season, but they have been able to grind out wins on the ground behind an offensive line that includes seniors Aaron Lockwood at guard, Mike Farrell at center and giant junior right tackle John Purdy (6-4, 340).
While the offense has been efficient, the real story has been Southern Illinois' defense. Led by one of the top linebacking groups in FCS, the Salukis have allowed just 111 yards on the ground per game (25th nationally) and 20.6 points (28th).
Brandin Jordan (80 tackles, seven tackles for loss, three sacks, one interception), Chauncey Mixon (72 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles), James Cloud (56 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks) and Ryan Patton (54 tackles, four tackles for loss) have been solid in SIU's new 3-4 set. The Salukis will show the Wildcats a number of different stunts and blitzes to try and confuse UNH quarterback R.J. Toman
The Salukis' defensive line has been solid, but hasn't put up big numbers in terms of sacks. The leading man in the trenches has been freshman defensive end Chance Coda, who has 21 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack in 11 starts in 2008.
The secondary is built around the talented duo of cornerback Korey Lindsey (36 tackles, four interceptions) and safety Marty Rodgers (71 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss), but has been the weak link of the defense, allowing 208 yards per game (69th in FCS).
New Hampshire closed the year with two of its best wins, crushing Massachusetts 52-21 at home and beating Maine 28-24 on the road to win the Colonial Athletic Association's North Division. Toman has been at the helm of passing attack that ranks 27th nationally (242 yards per game) and eighth in scoring offense (36.4 points per game).
Like Dieker, Toman (2,610 yards, 27 TDs, eight interceptions). had some large shoes to fill this season replacing 2005 Payton Award winner Ricky Santos at quarterback. Toman has plenty of good targets in Mike Boyle (56 catches, 16.5 average, 10 TDs) and tight end Scott Sicko (41 receptions, 12.3 yards, seven TDs). Sicko has been slowed recently by injuries.
Though the Wildcats don't run it much (170 yards per game), when they do they have been effective. Speedster Chad Kackert (571 yards, five TDs) has overcome a knee injury that cost him four games and inside force Robert Simpson (687 yards, six TDs) has been solid as a compliment.
Defensively, the Wildcats simply must keep Warner in check. The Wildcats have done well against the run this season (131 yards per game) and that should be a confidence boost facing a physical SIU offensive front that Warner often hides behind.
Leading a solid defensive front is redshirt freshman bookend Bryan McNally (45 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks), however the strength of the UNH defense has been a veteran secondary directed by safety John Clements (72 tackles, two interceptions) and cornerback Dino Vasso (86 tackles, four interceptions). Hugo Souza (56 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, a fumble return for a TD) and Matt Parent (85 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, one interception return for a TD were two of the CAA's best linebackers.
Safety Terrence Klein was named national defensive player of the week after intercepting two passes to kill off Maine's late comeback hopes.
New Hampshire was criticized as not being playoff worthy for much of the season, playing what was considered a light schedule. But the Wildcats have a chance to prove the doubters wrong this weekend at one of the toughest road venues in FCS.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Southern Illinois 31, New Hampshire 28.
11/27 12:59:21 ET