Cougars to Face a Scrappy Panther Defense

Northern Iowa will bring a top FCS program to LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday. The Cougar offense will face a unique defensive system that could be defined as "scrappy" yet disciplined. The Panthers present a 4-2-5 defensive front, which is somewhat familiar to the Cougar offensive players.

"They're a lot like Colorado State with how they play their system," said running back Wayne Latu. "They're scrappy and they're active. They're not the biggest guys in the world, but they get it done and they'll be a challenge."

On film the Cougars have noted a Panther defense that is a bit undersized but very resilient and hardworking, which reminds Latu of a particular Mountain West defense that runs from a 4-2-5 defensive system.

"The way they play is a lot like Air Force," said Latu. "The system is more like Colorado State's, but the way their players play is more like Air Force. They're a bit undersized, but they're scrappy and they get it done. They never quit."

Northern Iowa will start three linebackers, but the team uses a nickel package quite frequently with one of their linebackers playing way back from the line of scrimmage. Their starting linebackers weigh in at 215, 215 and 234 pounds.

De'Von Harris is the leader of the linebacking corps and the entire defense, having finished second on the team in tackles last year with 87. Harris measures in at 6 feet 1 inch and 215 pounds and will be joined by Jamar Thompson, who had some good experience last year and also weighs in at 215 pounds. The Will linebacking position will be manned by junior Josh Maroney (6 feet 1 inch, 234 pounds).

"You look at them and they look about the size of Fui Vakapuna's leg," noted Latu. "But even though they're small, they're tough. Like I said, they play defense like Air Force."

Along the defensive front Northern Iowa will start a couple of juniors who weigh in at 290 and 277 pounds, respectively. At defensive end they present some good experience with senior Jeremy Robertson (255 pounds) and junior James Ruffin (265 pounds). Their defensive line as a whole returns three starters from last season.

"They're disciplined and they work hard on the defensive line from what we've seen on film," said Latu. "They're sort of physical, but they're going to get tested against our big boys up front. They're a good first game for us in that way."

Latu's Reps Increase

Tuesday's practice saw Wayne Latu, along with Harvey Unga and Fui Vakapuna, get most of the reps at running back. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall mentioned that Latu's reps were largely an attempt to keep Latu's mind busy in light of some issues surrounding the birth of his new child, among other factors.

Latu can play and has had a good camp. While his counterpart J.J. DiLuigi has shown better at catching the football and perhaps even in blocking assignments. Latu is considered to be the better runner by a nose. With his running abilities well-honed. Latu has been working hard at the other facets of his game.

"I've worked so hard on blocking especially," explained Latu. "It's very important to block and I'm getting there. I can get better, obviously, but I feel I've really improved in that area along with catching the football."

In reading the depth chart, there seems to be little differential between running back and fullback. In fact, a fullback is not currently listed on the depth chart at all. Unga and DiLuigi are listed as halfbacks and Vakapuna and Latu listed as running backs.

"Yeah, Harvey is really the only guy who has a set position right now," said Latu. "When Harvey is in he's obviously the main guy. When I'm in with Harvey it's usually to block, but when I'm in there with Fui I get to run it a bit. It changes somewhat and I'm even in there with J.J. at times. We're all playing and we'll see how they play us at game time. We're all comfortable in whatever role Coach Reynolds gives us."

Coach Mendenhall noted that Latu is now finally able to get through some injury and academic issues he's had since that memorable game again UNLV in 2005 when he set the field on fire, rushing for 93 yards on 15 carries before disappearing on the depth chart. Now Latu is fully healthy and ready to emerge as a top option in the Cougar backfield.

"I just want a chance to play, that's all I've ever wanted," said Latu. "Hopefully coaches are confident enough in me to allow me to play. We all just have the goal to help the team and that's what I want. I'm ready to go."

Team is More than Ready to Play

According to Coach Mendenhall, his players are raring to go and are more than ready to play against Northern Iowa this Saturday.

"I think our guys are ready to play a game," assessed Mendenhall. "I think they've seen the looks that they've needed to see and we still have two more days, so I think they're ready to play. I think a game now is what they need now to move forward and grow."

"Oh, we're ready to go," added Latu. ‘We've watched film - too much film - and we've been practicing really well I think as a team. We're sick of seeing each other, we're ready to go."

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