Two Missouri Valley Football Conference teams enter key league games Saturday troubled by tenuous quarterback situations.
No. 19-ranked South Dakota State will be without quarterback Ryan Crawford for its contest at Missouri State, while Western Illinois is concerned with the sore thumb of signal-caller Matt Barr ahead of its game at Youngstown State.
Crawford is expected to be sidelined four to six weeks with a knee injury and was replaced by redshirt freshman Thomas O'Brien in last week's loss to Cal Poly. O'Brien was 13 of 22 for 98 yards but contributed to three turnovers.
"We need to give Thomas reads he can handle and a package he can handle," Jackrabbits' coach John Stiegelmeier said. "If we do that, he's got a chance. If we don't do that, it's not his fault it's our fault.
"Not that coaches ever win games, but you can put your players in position to win games. That's what we need to do with our young quarterback."
South Dakota State absorbed a similar blow on defense when end Jake Steffen also injured a knee and will out four to six weeks. Steffen was Valley Defensive Player of the Week after the Jacks' 38-7 win at Illinois State on Sept. 26.
Barr was forced to leave Western's 30-10 loss to Southern Illinois. He was replaced by redshirt freshman Wil Lunt. The former Corn Belt Conference player at Rochester completed 7 of 19 for 50 yards.
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"Matt has a very sore, sprained left thumb," said Leathernecks' coach Mark Hendrickson. "We'll keep our fingers crossed. He's going to travel (to Youngstown), and we'll see what happens when we get there."
Defensive triple crown: Ranked No. 3 nationally, Northern Iowa leads the Valley in scoring defense (7.6 points), rushing defense (65.6 yards) and pass defense (145.4).
The Panthers' defense features six senior starters but also two sophomores and a pair of redshirt freshman cornerbacks in Terrell McBride and Andre Martin.
"The age difference is big. That's a unique thing," UNI coach Mark Farley said. "That's something we were concerned about. But with mentoring and the combination of young and old, they've helped each other which has made them a better defense. That's how they've had to come together."
Harbor lights: Dwight native Clay Harbor is assembling another stellar season at Missouri State as the conference's premier tight end with 22 receptions for 250 yards.
"He runs like a wide receiver. He just plays tight end," said Stiegelmeier. "He's a great football player, and they know how to use him. It's unusual to see a tight end run and move like he does."