Someone had to take the blame for Thursday’s season opening loss to Eastern Illinois University.
For all intents and purposes, the Salukis should have been celebrating a good start to the year when the game concluded and already begun looking ahead to a tough matchup with Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, this weekend.
Historically, SIU doesn’t lose to Eastern on the gridiron.
The Salukis were 40-25-1 all-time against the Panthers before Thursday, including a four-game win streak by at least 15 points.
Also historically, coach Dale Lennon doesn’t lose season openers.
Before Thursday, Lennon had a 13-2 record in openers, with one of the losses at the hands of Football Bowl Subdivision school Marshall University 31-28 in 2009.
Somehow, with history’s odds in the Salukis favor, it was the Panthers who celebrated a victory on O’Brien Field’s turf — their rookie head coach Dino Babers soaked from a Gatorade shower, and fans taking pictures of a scoreboard that read 49-28 in favor of the home team.
Someone had to take the blame.
Outside of the locker room following the loss, Lennon did the most respectable thing he could do: took the blame.
He didn’t point toward the four fumbles the Salukis lost, one of which came on their own two-yard line, or the 127 yards on penalties that Eastern gave the Salukis, most which weren’t taken advantage of.
Lennon didn’t point fingers at a secondary that was questioned all summer, and he confirmed the doubters’ thoughts by allowing seven touchdowns through the air.
Lennon said there was one man that deserved to be held accountable for the loss, and that was himself.
“I didn’t have (the team) prepared and ready to play at the level we needed to,” he said after Thursday’s game. “That’s what is disappointing.”
At Monday’s weekly press conference, Lennon alluded again to his faults against Eastern.
“You have to make sure you give your players a chance to be successful, and that’s the job of us coaches,” he said. “We have to give the players a chance to be successful.”
While opinions of Lennon differ, one thing is certain. He knows how to win.
Over the course of his career, he has attained a 130-51 record and was named Missouri Valley Football Conference Coach of the Year in 2008 and 2009. He also won a Division II championship at North Dakota in 2001.
The Salukis face a huge test Saturday in Oxford. The Redhawks were trounced 56-10 by Ohio State University Saturday, and the team will be hungry for a win.
Historically, Miami has a nearly perfect record of 6-0-1 against Football Championship Series teams.
Miami’s aerial attack, led by quarterback Zac Dysert and receiver Nick Harwell, will be ready to pounce on a Saluki secondary still searching for answers. Turnovers must be kept to a minimum, and Miami will almost certainly not commit 15 penalties for 127 yards.
As always with a matchup between an FCS and FBS school, a win might not be expected of the Salukis, but they must offer a challenge and put themselves in a position for a victory while building confidence for the rest of the season.
If Lennon thought it was his fault the team wasn’t prepared to play last week, another slow start at Miami means he isn’t doing his job.
Lennon cannot afford to take the blame Saturday.