SIU football prepares for another MVC test against #16 Northern Iowa

By Cole Daily, Staff Reporter

SIU (6-1; MVC 4-0) is currently third in the country according to NCAA.com’s Football Championship Subdivision rankings and tied for first place in the Missouri Valley Conference (with #2 North Dakota State). On Oct. 30, the Salukis will travel to Cedar Falls, IA, and face off against the Northern Iowa Panthers (4-3; MVC 2-2).

The Panthers are coming off an impressive road win against #10 South Dakota State. SIU Head Coach Nick Hill said it could be difficult to go on their home turf and prevail  after the Panthers grabbed such a monumental win.

“Playing in their dome is always tough. But, like I always tell our team, I look forward to playing in the dome and it’s a place you will always remember playing in,” Hill said.

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Senior safety Qua Brown said the Salukis have a lot of respect for their next opponent.

“We know UNI is a very good opponent so we’re going to have to be at our best. We respect them, but we expect to go out there, play our best ball, and continue doing what we’ve been doing,” Brown said.

Southern Illinois is coming back from a bye week, so the team had a chance  to recover physically and mentally. Senior running back Donnavan Spencer said the timing was perfect.

“It definitely came at a good time for us. We now have the opportunity to get some guys back like Avante who can help us the rest of the season,” Spencer said.

Junior wide receiver Avante Cox is expected to return this week after a shoulder injury when the Salukis played Western Illinois on Oct. 2.

Not only did the bye give SIU the time to recover, but Brown said it also gave extra time for preparation against their next opponent.

Spencer said SIU has no need to panic because of the team’s veteran leadership.

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“It’ll be a tense game for sure. But you know, we got our bodies right, and, coming off of our bye week, we understand it’s time to step on the gas pedal again,” Spencer said.

Brown said the Salukis’ mix of experience and depth is the reason SIU is currently third in the country.

“Our coaching staff has done a great job of recruiting over the past couple of years and building up the roster to where it is now. Football is a very physical game where injuries are bound to happen, but our depth really helps us,” Brown said.

However, playing on the road against a ranked opponent is no cakewalk, even for top-ranked programs. Despite their confidence in their ability, Hill said, the Salukis understand the importance of the matchup.

“If you don’t play with a sense of desperation every single week in this league (MVC), you will look up and your team will have lost a few in a row.” Hill said, “You have to have a sense of urgency and pay close attention to detail or else you will get beat.”

Not only did the Panthers upset SDSU just last week, but, in their first game of the season, they lost 16-10 against then #7 Iowa State. Iowa State competes in the Football Bowl Subdivision, a division of college football ranked above the FCS.

Hill said the last thing he wants his team to do is to underestimate Northern Iowa because of their  record.

“Northern Iowa, and you could say this about many teams in our conference, is probably several drives away from being undefeated,” Hill said.

UNI has multiple players on both sides of the ball that can cause problems for Southern Illinois if SIU doesn’t  have the proper game plan. Spencer said it’s going to be very important for the Salukis to run their schemes efficiently.

“They got some great athletes upfront. But on our side, we just have to execute. We can’t have too many mistakes when playing in a tough environment,” Spencer said.

Both Brown and Spencer said they have full confidence in Hill and his staff to come up with a great scheme to beat the Panthers.

“They have been doing a phenomenal job all year. They make sure to keep us humble and continue to put the work in so we can carry on our success,” Brown said.

Spencer said his favorite characteristic of Hill’s is his affection for the players.

“He cares about all of his players, from the bottom to the top[…] one thing I really appreciate from him and his coaching staff is that he respects all of us,” Spencer said.

He said the Salukis feel like a family and this has helped with their success on the field.

Now that the team is third in the FCS rankings with a 6-1 record, SIU is facing more and more pressure with every game they win.

Brown said Southern Illinois doesn’t pay much attention to the outside noise, and players like to keep their heads down and prepare for whoever their next opponent is.

“We understand that we have two tough games ahead. I’ve heard UNI has a great home crowd and it gets very loud in their dome, but we know what to expect so we’re prepared to go in there and play our best,” Brown said.

Hill preaches this sentiment to his players. He said the only thing that should be on their minds right now is knocking off Northern Iowa.

“We’re excited to go play a great opponent like we always do in this league. We hope to play well in another great college football game this weekend,” Hill said.

Sports Reporter Cole Daily can be reached at [email protected]

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