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Southern Illinois coach Nick Hill anticipates a pressure defense from a coaching tree he knows well

A former Southern Illinois quarterback from 2004-2007, Hill was named the Salukis quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator in the final season (2015) with former UND coach Dale Lennon at the helm in Carbondale.

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Former UND coach Dale Lennon (left) greets Chris Mussman, who coached North Dakota for six seasons, before a 2008 game between UND and Southern Illinois in Carbondale. Lennon was relieved of his duties at SIU on Monday. Photo by John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald.

On his weekly media call with local reporters, Southern Illinois coach Nick Hill was asked if the Salukis want to come to Grand Forks and show UND, playing in its first Missouri Valley Football Conference game, what the league is all about.

But Hill knows UND understands what the MVFC is like. In fact, Hill knows a lot about what to expect out of the Fighting Hawks on defense.

UND and Southern Illinois face off Saturday at noon at the Alerus Center.

"Playing a full season (in the MVFC), they haven't been there yet, but they've played in the Big Sky, which is another great conference," Hill said. "It's not as good as what we feel ours is, or maybe the style of play is a little different, just from watching their season last year.

"But they play NDSU and the different Dakota schools. Bubba (Schweigert) spending so much time in our league as the defensive coordinator here and Austin Flyger (UND defensive line coach) was on our staff for three years. They know what the Valley is like. This is a playoff team and we weren't ... we're on the road, and we've got to go up there and play a great game."

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A former Southern Illinois quarterback from 2004-2007, Hill was named the Salukis quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator in the final season (2015) with former UND coach Dale Lennon at the helm in Carbondale.

When Lennon was let go after the 2015 season, Hill was originally named the interim coach before given the head job.

So in one season as co-offensive coordinator, Hill was going up against the 3-4 defense that was designed by Lennon and UND head coach Bubba Schweigert, who was defensive coordinator at SIU for six seasons.

"It all goes back to coach Lennon and he and Bubba were the architects of it," Hill said. "I had a couple of years when I was an assistant with Lennon where we went up against each other a lot during training camps and during the season.

"You're going to get a lot of different looks with people moving around. They're slanting and angling at the line of scrimmage and bringing pressures. You've got to be disciplined to beat them. Bubba is a great defensive mind and a great defensive coach, and he'll have them ready to go."

UND will have a first-time defensive coordinator against Southern Illinois, as Brett Holinka moved into the role after former defensive coordinator Eric Schmidt left for Fresno State.

Holinka, a former UND linebacker and assistant, will continue to run the 3-4 defense he was trained under.

UND gave up 28.5 points per game last year and 397.6 yards of total offense per game. This came against what was considered one of the toughest schedules in the country in 2019. The Hawks finished 7-5 after facing seven teams ranked in the Top 25 when UND played them.

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UND's top defensive losses are linebacker Donnell Rodgers and defensive end Mason Bennett. The Fighting Hawks return four defensive back starters from a year ago.

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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