Cougars to Play a Division II Team?

As the Cougar football team pours over film of Northern Iowa, what they're seeing is a lower-division team that doesn't necessarily look the part. Indeed, Northern Iowa will bring a solid team to LaVell Edwards Stadium and the Cougars aren't taking the Panthers for granted.

"They don't look like a Division II team," said wide receiver Michael Reed about Northern Iowa. "You look at what they do on film and they could certainly compete at the Division I level."

"They're good," added Austin Collie. "They're a solid team that executes well and they have some good athletes that we'll be competing against. We're not taking them lightly."

Northern Iowa finished 12-1 a year ago, a record that included a victory over a Division I school and Big 12 conference member in Iowa State. What Northern Iowa and other lower-division programs accomplished last season isn't lost on the mind of Reed and his teammates.

"Oh, we're very aware that they beat Iowa State last year," said Reed. ‘You then look at Appalachian State and what they did against Michigan the first game of the year, and no sir, we're not taking them lightly at all. We respect them as an opponent and we'll have to give them our best game to beat them."

Formidable Defense

It's been well-published how many offensive starters Northern Iowa will have to be replaced this year. On defense, however, the Panthers return most of their starting unit with their secondary virtually intact from a year ago.

"They return a lot of the same players and the players we've seen on film are fast and athletic," said Reed. "They're smart, they're quick to the ball and they'll be a good challenge for us."

Northern Iowa plays a somewhat similar coverage system to what BYU runs, with zone coverages dominating the defensive playbook.

"They play a lot of Tampa two and a little Tampa three coverage," said Collie. "They don't play much man at all and they're good at what they do."

Scout Team Comes Out Strong

Both the starting offensive and defensive units were able to go almost exclusively against the recently formed scout teams on Monday. For Reed and the other starters, their scout team opponent was a welcome sight.

"When you go against the scout team all day you know it's close, real close," said Reed. "We have a very good scout team out there this year I feel, and they're working hard to prepare us as best they can."

The scout team defense includes such players as Kyle Luekenga, Tevita Hola, Solomone Kafu, Jeff Bell, Brannon Brooks, Travis Uale, Cameron Comer, Garrett Nicholson, Ryan Love, Tana Uyema, Shane Hunter, Dustin Graham and Justin Blackmore, among other players.

The scout team offense meanwhile has Stephen Covey, Tucker Lamb, Braden Brown, Tyler Kozlowski, B.J. Peterson, Landon Jaussi, Brock Stringham, Mark Freeman, Lawrence Pico, Nate Hartung and Ron Best, among others.

Stephen Covey talks about running the scout team.

Going the Distance

For true freshman O'Neill Chambers, seeing his name on the depth chart as one of the primary kickoff returners gave him a lot of chills and excitement. Chambers has promised the Cougar coaching staff that he'll return a kickoff for a touchdown this year and is as confident as ever that he'll do just that.

"Right now I'm just excited," said Chambers. "When coaches told me that they were going to let me return the first kickoff of the year, it seriously got me pumped. I'm so grateful that they trust me to do it and I won't disappoint. I told them what I'm going to do and I fully intend on doing it. I will return a kick for a touchdown this year."

So will that kickoff return for a touchdown come against Northern Iowa?

"I'm going to do everything possible to make it happen against Northern Iowa," said Chambers. "The guys on kick return - how they block - and the scheme, it makes it easy for me. But I feel I can break a lot of tackles and that I have the speed to get it done."

One things Cougar fans will note is the unusual way Chambers fields kickoffs and punts. While just about every kick returner fields kicks with their arms and body in sort of a basket-like catching position, Chambers fields kicks every time at about the same level of his head using nothing but his hands.

"It's the best way to catch the ball," explained Chambers about how he fields kicks. "You don't waste a lot of time catching it against your body and looking it in that way. I feel I have great hands, and when catching the kicks that way it allows me to get started faster, and when you use just your hands I feel I'm able to secure it better. It's just the way that works best for me."

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