The SIU football team’s Homecoming matchup with the University of Northern Iowa Saturday offers the Salukis a chance to kick a battered rival while its down.
Defeating UNI (1-4, 0-2) could essentially knock the Panthers out of playoff contention and vault the Salukis (3-3, 2-1) over the .500 mark.
It is foolish to judge the Panthers by their record alone. The team has played perhaps the harshest schedule amongst teams in the Football Championship Series.
UNI lost by a combined 16 points to University of Wisconsin and University of Iowa, both Big Ten Conference schools, to start the year, and has since taken losses to Youngstown State and North Dakota State, both of which are ranked top 10 in the polls.
In fact, even with a dismal record, Northern Iowa remained in the top 25 of the polls until it dropped Monday.
“It’s Northern Iowa. They could be 5-0. It doesn’t matter. It’s going to be a game our guys are excited to play,” coach Dale Lennon said at his weekly press conference. “Nobody is looking past them. Records and stats mean nothing to us in our preparation for this game.”
Senior outside linebacker Kevin Reed said there is no issue with the Salukis looking past Northern Iowa.
“We have to be mentally tough at home,” Reed said. “It’s going to be a big week with Homecoming. Every game is a must-win game for us, especially a team like (Northern Iowa) that has faced two FBS teams and competed. These guys are not to be overlooked at all.”
Reed recorded two tackles and a sack in the Salukis’ 17-0 Illinois State shutout Saturday.
Another factor the Salukis shouldn’t take lightly in the contest is UNI quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen. Though he is only a freshman, Lennon said Kollmorgen has a pocket presence and ability to make quick reads that are far beyond his age.
Kollmorgen ranks second in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in passing at 257 yards per contest. He completes just under 60 percent of his passes and has thrown for 11 touchdowns.
Senior defensive end Ken Boatright said Kollmorgen’s age will not factor into the way he attacks the quarterback while on the field.
“Usually it would, but this guy is a good quarterback,” Boatright said. “I’m not even going to look at his age and say anything about it.”
Boatright had four tackles and a sack Saturday. His four sacks on the year are the seventh-most in the conference.
While SIU has three times as many wins as UNI, Lennon said both teams come into the matchup with the same mindset.
“It’s a must-win for them and a must-win for us,” he said. “That’s the reality of it. It’s game seven of the season for us and has significance to it if we want to feel we have responsibilities next week. We are 3-3. We are fighting for survival. We have to fight for the opportunity to be alive that next week.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 2:00 p.m.