Some players are back while more are now gametime decisions for No. 20 Northern Arizona (1-1) on the road Saturday against Missouri Valley Conference team Missouri State (1-1).
Key offensive starters Malik Noshi and Cory Young, who both missed last week’s 31-26 home-opening loss against Eastern Washington, are expected to play after each fully participated in practice Thursday.
Wide receiver Emmanuel Butler, who through two games leads the team with 10 receptions for 214 yards, did not practice Thursday, but Lumberjacks head coach Jerome Souers confirmed that it was just precautionary and that Butler would play Saturday.
On the flip side, joining starting quarterback Case Cookus as gametime decisions to play Saturday are starting defensive lineman Chauntez Thomas and starting linebacker Taylor Powell as they both are being evaluated for injuries.
Starting safety Wes Sutton -- who was held out against Eastern Washington because of an ankle injury -- is still be evaluated and is another player that is a gametime decision.
“We have three games to get ready for conference play, and it’s not worth putting him out there if he is half speed or can’t go full speed,” Souers said on why Sutton is still being evaluated.
Sutton’s absence was a blow to the defense as the secondary struggled to stop Eastern Washington quarterback Gage Gubrud, but Souers said he is happy with how backup defensive back Anthony Sweeney handled being thrust into playing more snaps in relief of Sutton.
Sweeney ended up with six tackles and two pass breakups against Eastern Washington.
If Cookus is unable to play, it is likely that Daniel Bridge-Gadd will take over at quarterback.
Souers said the Lumberjacks need to embrace a “next-man-up” mentality now that multiple players are questionable to play Saturday and that the team is doing everything it can to get healthy before the team's Big Sky opener against Southern Utah on Nov. 22.
Missouri State boasts a type of quarterback that Northern Arizona might be used to seeing this season.
Bears quarterback Peyton Huslig can do damage through the air and on the ground, a type of threat that Northern Arizona has struggled with this season and last.
Northern Arizona has already faced two quarterbacks, Kai Locksley from UTEP and Gubrud, who are dual-threats offensively. The Lumberjacks held Locksley to just 50 yards rushing, and they gave up 80 rushing yards to Gubrud.
Huslig leads the Bears in both passing and rushing yards with 385 yards through the air and 140 yards on the ground through two games, and Souers likened the 6-foot-4 signal caller to Locksley rather than Gubrud because of his more power-based running style.
“This guy will be a lot more like UTEP’s guy,” Souers said. “They say he can throw better, we see a little bit of it but not like the guy we just saw last Saturday -- nobody throws like that.”
“(Huslig) is more of a mauler,” Souers added.
Huslig has completed 23 of 42 passes across the Bears first two games with seven completions that went for more than a 15-yard gain. His longest run of the season is a 58-yard burst against Oklahoma State in the team’s opener.
Missouri State has yet to play an FCS school this season, having dropped its first game against Power-5 school Oklahoma State 58-17 on the road and then won its second game against Division II school Lincoln 52-24 at home.
Going off of how the team fared last season, the Bears went 3-8 and finished near the bottom of the FCS in 177th place in both total yards allowed and scoring defense having allowed 38 points per game.
Last season the Bears offense was about in the middle of the FCS across the board -- ranking fairly higher than their defense -- finishing 63rd in total yards with 361 per game and 61st in points per game with 24.2.
The Bears have had four winning seasons since 1998 -- all four of which the team went 6-5 -- and the most recent coming in 2009. Missouri State has also not beaten a team that finished the season above .500 since 2013.
Kickoff for Northern Arizona’s final nonconference game of the season is set for noon on Saturday.