By Rob Todor
Northern Iowa has two returners capable of big yardage.
One of the keys to today’s Youngstown State homecoming game will be how well the Penguins cover kickoffs and punts against Northern Iowa.
The No. 4-ranked Panthers (5-2, 3-1 Missouri Valley Football Conference) feature All-American Johnny Gray and freshman Jarred Herring on kick returns.
Herring is second in the MVFC with a 26.92 average. He had two long kickoff returns last week in UNI’s 23-13 win over North Dakota State, including a 70-yarder that set up a touchdown.
“Last week he made a huge difference in that football game,” said UNI coach Mark Farley. “He got us some great field position, he got us out of some trouble and turned the momentum back in our favor. He’s a difference maker as a freshman for us.”
The Panthers, who are expected to start redshirt freshman Zach Davis at quarterback for today’s 4 p.m. game at Stambaugh Stadium, will hope for their two returners to give them a short field and count on their impressive defense to control the Penguins (2-6, 1-3).
“They are playing very well,” said YSU coach Jon Heacock of the Panthers. “You watch their game from a week ago and they way their defense is playing it’s got to be one of the best that’s around out there.
“Guys on offense, obviously Corey Lewis and Johnny Gray, they’re playing very well as well.”
Lewis, UNI’s starting running back, has had some ankle problems this season but leads the team 575 yards on the ground. He returned last week for 13 carries after getting less than five attempts each of the two previous weeks.
No one, of course, knows more about injuries than Heacock, who’s seen 23 players miss at least one game this season.
The Penguins have had a revolving door at quarterback, where four different players have started.
Junior Brandon Summers is expected to start today. He suffered a sprained left knee at Southern Utah on Oct. 4 and has seen limited action since then. He practiced all week, though, and got the majority of the reps in Thursday’s practice.
True freshman Marc Kanetsky of Hubbard will likely be the backup. Last week’s starter, true freshman Dailyn Campbell, saw very little practice time this week.
“They’ve faced a lot of adversity and when you look at the numbers and the positions, they’ve lost key positions as well as numbers,” said Farley of the Penguins. “This league is a part of this whole injury deal. There’s no question this is a tough league to get through. When you start dealing in our division, we don’t have the depth of some other levels and that’s creating some issues when you start going with your next guys.”
Other games in the MVFC today at South Dakota State at Indiana State, North Dakota State at Illinois State and Southern Illinois at Missouri State.