Daily Egyptian

Saluki football notebook: Scouting the Northern Iowa Panthers

SIU+football+players+celebrate+following+a+50-17+win+over+the+Murray+State+Racers+on+Saturday%2C+Sept.+17%2C+2016%2C+at+Saluki+Stadium.+%28Ryan+Michalesko+%7C+%40photosbylesko%29
SIU football players celebrate following a 50-17 win over the Murray State Racers on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

SIU football players celebrate following a 50-17 win over the Murray State Racers on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

SIU football players celebrate following a 50-17 win over the Murray State Racers on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Saluki Stadium. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

By Sean Carley

SIU football opens up conference play Saturday with a strong road test at Northern Iowa during the Panthers’ homecoming. 

The Dawgs are 4-13 all-time in Cedar Falls, most recently dropping a 49-28 contest last year.

UNI will head into its matchup with SIU with a 1-2 record achieved in an uncommon fashion — knocking off Big 12 opponent Iowa State, but losing to Football Championship Subdivision No. 4 Eastern Washington and No. 6 Montana.

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The matchup will pit strength against strength: the Saluki offense and Panther defense.

Northern Iowa is a defensive juggernaut, allowing only 303.5 yards per game. This mark is the 12th best in the nation.

Senior defensive lineman Karter Schult anchors the Panther defensive line, leading the FCS in both sacks (6.5) and tackles for loss (12). Schult helps contribute to the Panthers’ run defense, which is No. 5 in the FCS, allowing 67.3 yards per game on the ground.

SIU will try to break UNI’s defense with an offense that ranks seventh in the nation at 497 yards per game.

If there is a crack in Panthers’ defensive armor, it is its pass defense that Saluki senior quarterback Josh Straughan will try to exploit.

Senior quarterback Josh Straughan launches a pass during SIU's fall football scrimmage Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016, at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Senior quarterback Josh Straughan launches a pass during SIU’s fall football scrimmage Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016, at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

SIU currently ranks ninth in passing offense with 313.7 yards per game.

The game could depend on SIU’s capability to limit Northern Iowa’s ability to move the ball on offense.

UNI uses a run heavy spread-option based offense. This type of offense utilizes as many as four wide receivers and one running back in a shotgun set. The quarterback then reads the defense to decide whether to run or pass as the play unfolds.

During last year’s matchup, the Panthers decimated the Saluki defense, running for more than 300 yards between running back Tyvis Smith and quarterback Aaron Bailey, both of whom are returning.

One major strength the Salukis will hold over the Panthers could potentially be utilized on the game’s first play. Northern Iowa ranks No. 120 out of 122 FCS teams in kick return defense. Southern Illinois’ kick return unit is No. 1 with an average of 34.1 yards per return.

In the Salukis’ last game against Murray State, freshman returner D.J. Davis brought back the opening kick 98 yards for a touchdown, which coach Nick Hill said was a huge momentum shift in the team’s 50-17 win.

MORE: D.J. Davis dedicates 98-yard touchdown to slain aunt

If SIU can get a similar play to steal momentum early against UNI and ride that wave, the Salukis can potentially ruin homecoming in Cedar Falls.

Sports editor Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @SCarleyDE.

To stay up to date with all your SIU football news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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