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It's another week in the Valley for Northern Iowa

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CEDAR FALLS – It was No. 6 last week. This week it is No. 3.

Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley knows he sounds like a broken record every time somebody asks him about the Panthers’ Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule.

UNI, ranked 16th, is riding high after a victory over sixth-ranked South Dakota State on the road last week.

The task won’t be any easier Saturday in the UNI-Dome when the Panthers face No. 3 Southern Illinois in what will be UNI’s third-consecutive game against a Top-6 opponent, all of them league foes.

“It doesn’t matter. It is just part of (our) league play,” Farley said. “Everybody is good and you have to bring your ‘A’ game every week.”

In the Salukis, Farley sees a team that has just found a way to win.

Each of SIU’s last three games have went down to the wire, including a pair of overtime games, and all were won by the Salukis.

Four weeks ago, SIU beat Western Illinois in overtime. A week later, the Salukis erased a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter before beating SDSU in overtime. Then two weeks ago, Nico Guladoni booted a 46-yard field goal with 5:21 left to beat North Dakota.

“They are finding ways to win,” Farley said. “They are just a well-rounded team that is finding ways to win games right now.”

It all starts with a high-powered offense.

For the second consecutive week, UNI will face a team that comes into the contest averaging better than 40 points a game.

The Salukis are averaging 439.0 yards per game and the stir that mixes their drink is sophomore quarterback Nic Baker.

Baker since taking over starting duties last spring, is 9-1 as a starter.

So far this fall, Baker has passed for 1,889 yards and 18 scores against seven interceptions. Senior Landon Lenoir is his go-to guy. Lenoir has 43 catches for 627 yards and eight scores.

“He is a competitor,” Farley said of Baker. “Competitors are going to battle to the last snap. He will be a full-time job. He will extend plays should you get everybody covered up.”

As tough of an out as Baker can be, the SIU run game is equally as lethal. Justin Strong and 245-pound Javon Williams Jr are each averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Williams will get several carries out of the ‘Wildcat’ formation.

Then in the last four games, Western Carolina grad transfer Donnavan Spencer has scored at least one touchdown in the run game.

“They do multiple things offensively,” Farley said. “It will be another game like last week trying to get ready because you are facing such a balanced football team.”

Part of the challenge is whom will the Panthers have available on defense.

Leading tackler Spencer Cuvelier missed last week’s game with a shoulder injury.

Farley was uncertain whether if Cuvelier would be available Saturday, but said Bryce Flater, Alfonzo Lambert and Riley Van Whye all stepped up in big ways in the win over the Jacks. He also said freshman Ben Belken contributed some valuable snaps.

“You have your hoping time table and you have your real time table o I’m on the hope side right now,” Farley said of Cuvelier. “For this week, I’d probably say doubtful…hopeful?”

SIU is coming off its bye week and the Saluki’s are 1-2 under head coach Nick Hill in games following an off week.

SIU beat UNI, 17-16, in the spring, snapping a four-game win streak by the Panthers in the series. The Salukis have not won back-to-back games against UNI since the 2012 and 2013 seasons and their last win at the UNI-Dome was a 24-17 overtime win in 2013.


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