For the second time in two weeks, the North Dakota State defense will be preparing for more than one quarterback. With Southern Illinois, that was to be expected whether Kare Lyles is the quarterback or not.

The senior left the game against the University of North Dakota last week because of a rib injury. He was listed as questionable earlier this week. He’s listed as the starter on the depth chart but if he can’t go, sophomore Nic Baker will get the start.

Nonetheless, the Bison are preparing for a wildcat formation with SIU standout running back Javon Williams Jr.

“You’ll see a lot of situational football throughout the year,” NDSU head coach Matt Entz said of the Salukis’ offense. “The wildcat is a big piece of what they do. It’s something we have to defend regardless.”

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Entz said SIU ran 160 plays last season out of the wildcat. It’s mainly a run-only offense, but Williams did complete 7 of 11 passes in 2019 with two touchdowns and one interception. He attempted one pass against the Bison in 2019, but was sacked.

On the flipside, he ran for 117 yards and one touchdown.

“He’s added weight and he’s bigger,” Entz said. “We need to do a good job of getting to the football. They gave us fits a year ago. They’re very competitive.”

Said Bison linebacker Jasir Cox: “Javon is a big back and we’re preparing day in and day out to stop the run.”

SIU head coach Nick Hill said in his weekly press conference that Lyles had as good of a game at UND since he’s been at SIU, minus a couple fumbles. He was 12 of 14 passing with one touchdown.

“I felt like Kare played at a high level,” Hill said. “In Nic, there are some positives to build on, some positives there, too.”

Lyles, from Madison, Wis., started his career at the University of Wisconsin. He redshirted in 2017 before transferring to Scottsdale Community College (Ariz.) for the 2018 season.

Two vying for punt return job

The job of punt returner at NDSU was in good hands last year with Trevor Heit, who averaged 12.0 yards per return. After one game, the role this year is shaping up to be a battle between freshman cornerback Jayden Price and sophomore receiver Braylon Henderson.

Henderson almost took his first attempt to the house. Taking advantage of a low punt by Youngstown’s Paddy Lynch, Henderson juked a couple defenders and found an open lane down the left side.

“I was one guy away,” said Henderson, noting blocks by Cole Wisnewski, Sam Jung and Dom Jones. “One guy away from scoring a touchdown. We’ll get that fixed.”

As it was, the return went for 26 yards to near midfield. But the Bison offense couldn’t take advantage and punted.

Henderson, from Plano, Texas, was a punt returner all throughout high school. He returned one for a touchdown and hopes to add to his responsibilities in addition to being a receiver.

“I love it,” he said. “Any opportunity I have to get my hands on the ball is something I’m excited for.”

Short week for Bison

The first Sunday game in school history made for some quick, early-week work for NDSU. The Bison took Monday off — the NCAA mandates one day off a week — but had an extended practice on Tuesday in what Entz said was making up for lost time.

“We don’t have time to worry about it a lot,” Entz said. “No one feels sorry for the Bison having a short week.”

NDSU will do its traditional road routine of a light practice in Fargo on Friday and flying to Carbondale, Ill., later in the afternoon, although Entz said Friday “may be tweaked a bit” because of the short week.

Henderson, on Wednesday, said he really hasn’t noticed much difference with practice and game planning for SIU.

“Not at all,” he said. “We’re prepared for a huge game plan, it’s what we prepare for all summer and all year. The (Sunday game) post-game affected my schedule. I’m used to coming out on a Sunday and relaxing but I had school so it was kind of different.”

Etc. etc. etc.

  • SIU is 2-8 in its last 10 games against ranked opponents. The last win was 20-17 over No. 25 Southeast Missouri State in the only game last fall. The Salukis are 1-5 against No. 1-ranked teams with the win being a 31-20 victory over Western Kentucky in 2005.
  • The Salukis’ five-game winning streak in 2019 was their longest since 2009 when they went 11-2, winning 11 straight in the process. The co-offensive coordinator for that team was current NDSU quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg.
  • NDSU’s last road loss was the last time the Bison lost a game, 33-21, on Nov. 4, 2017 at South Dakota State. NDSU has won 10 straight away from home with its last road game at SIU in 2019.