YOUNGSTOWN - Though former Northern Iowa linebacker L.J. Fort is now playing in Cleveland with the Browns, he is well aware of what's about to happen 76 miles southeast on Saturday.
He has a very vivid memory of the Youngstown State Penguins, and the games they played against him while he was a Panther. He specifically remembers running back Jamaine Cook.
"For sure it's going to be a great game because Youngstown beat Pittsburgh," Fort said. "They have Jamaine Cook. I played against Cook when I was there. That's a tough running back."
Fort has a right to remember Cook. Last year, the now senior running back had 90 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers, but the Penguins came up short in terms of a victory. This year, it's not about the yardage for Cook, it's about YSU finally beating the Panthers.
"The last few years we've had some close games with them," Cook said. "We just want to show that we can put the icing on the cake and finally beat Northern Iowa."
For that to happen, Cook will have to put a lot of the offense on his shoulders. On the season, he has 296 yards and four touchdowns, with most of those yards coming against Albany. Last week against the Great Danes, he had 33 carries for 161 yards and three touchdowns.
If Cook can crack 100 yards against the Panthers, consider it a good day. UNI - which has faced Wisconsin and Iowa in two of its first three games - have only gave up 396 yards, an average of 132 a game.
Stat for stat, Cook has the edge on UNI's big running backs - David Johnson and Carlos Anderson. Johnson leads the team in yardage, with 100 yards rushing and Anderson adding 97, however Anderson is listed as the starter. They will have to get by the defensive line of YSU, which has allowed 287 yards over three games and only allowing 3.8 yards per carry.
With the ground game being so big for both teams, YSU coach Eric Wolford has stressed to his squad that the Penguins will have to match the physicality the Panthers will bring to Stambaugh Stadium on Saturday night.
"They have a great scheme, their coaches coach them hard," Cook said. "They fly to the ball. They are very physical. So that's something coach Wolford addressed with us, is that Saturday night we have to be the more physical team. They fly to the ball. They are very aggressive. Like I've said before, I'm confident we can execute whoever we line up against."
While the Penguins are confident they can finally end the 11-game winning streak the Panthers have going, Fort has other ideas for his alma mater.
"They (UNI) definitely have their hands full," Fort said. "But we have a high-powered offense, too. It's going to be a good game. (My prediction) 28-14 UNI."
The Penguins hope he is wrong.
Mike McLain contributed
to this story.