Northern Iowa’s defense can cause havoc for SIU

By Tony McDaniel

Just two must-win games remain in the SIU football season. Unfortunately for the Salukis, the two opponents are anything but pushovers.

No. 22 SIU will close out its home season with senior day and a game against No. 12 Northern Iowa on Saturday.

The Panthers are coming off of back-to-back upset victories.


UNI defeated the then-unbeaten Illinois State Redbirds 42-28 on Nov. 1. The next week the Panthers knocked off North Dakota State with a 23-3 victory at the UNI-Dome.

NDSU had not lost in 33 games prior to that match up.

The Panthers are hot right now, but their season did not start that way.

UNI opened its season against two Football Bowl Subdivision teams, Iowa and Hawaii, losing both games.

Northern Iowa lost two more games against Indiana State on Oct. 4 and again against South Dakota on Oct. 11.

UNI will be motivated in their game at Saluki Stadium on Saturday; a win will make the Panthers playoff eligible.

Much of the Panthers’ success during the last three weeks has been in part thanks to a solid rushing attack.


Senior running back David Johnson has topped 100 rushing yards in the three most recent games. He also accumulated 4 touchdowns in those games.

Johnson has had a nice season for the Panthers, with 1,113 yards—good for No. 17 in the Football Championship Subdivision—and 8 touchdowns this season.

Despite Johnson’s great season, this should not scare Saluki fans that much. SIU’s defense is ranked only 48th in rushing defense, but has shown this season it has the ability to stop the run.

SIU held South Dakota to just 109 rushing yards and Western Illinois to only 77.

What can make Northern Iowa really dominant however is the defensive unit.

The Panthers can boast the No. 10 defensive unit in the nation. They are also No. 2 in team sacks, No. 7 in rushing defense, and the best team in the FCS at defending the red-zone.

Sophomore quarterback Ryan West will have to be absolutely on point in Saturday’s game. Moving the football on the ground will be easier said than done without senior running back Malcolm Agnew, who is still out from an ankle injury.

Redshirt freshman Cameron Walter showed he could have an explosive day carrying the ball last week in his big performance against Missouri State. He will have to prove that was not a fluke against a very good Northern Iowa rushing defense.

For the UNI defense, two linemen, sophomore Brett McMakin and senior Xavier Williams combine to help make up the most impressive defensive line in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

McMakin and Williams have combined this season for 137 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, and 14 sacks.

The defensive strengths on Northern Iowa are scary, but if you’re searching for a glimmer of hope mother nature may have an answer for you.

UNI plays all of its home games, including its last two victories, at the UNI-Dome. While it is cold in Northern Iowa, the Panthers may not be prepared to play outdoors. forecasts a high of 37 degrees and a 30 percent chance of snow showers in the afternoon. The frigid temperatures will impact the game for both teams.

UNI also hasn’t defeated SIU in Carbondale since 1996.

UNI is just one victory away from playoff eligibility, and the Salukis are just one loss away from kissing playoffs good-bye. It should be a thrilling contest on Saturday at Saluki Stadium.