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CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa’s game against Southern Utah at 7 p.m. Saturday night represents the closest thing to normalcy on its three-game non-conference schedule.
Iowa State, a Power 5 team with an 18-scholarship advantage was the challenge in Week 1 (42-24 loss). The next week, UNI (1-1) went up against the unconventional triple-option offense of Cal Poly (45-38 OT win).
The Panthers’ final non-conference tilt is against an offense that actually bears a resemblance to their Missouri Valley Football Conference counterparts — both schematically and in scholarships. And while some questions the Panthers had headed into 2017 have been answered already, many more could be answered in this particular matchup with the Thunderbirds (1-1).
Led by quarterback Patrick Tyler, Southern Utah enters the game just one yard shy of averaging 500 total yards of offense per game.
“Their quarterback is excellent. He’s getting the ball out on time. He’s got the ability to get out of trouble,” UNI Coach Mark Farley said. “And he has a great corps of receivers. Very fast and very talented. So their quarterback and their skill players are doing an excellent job for them. But the quarterback is really the difference maker. He was the one that probably showed up when I watched film.”
Now before going and chalking those numbers up to a cupcake non-conference schedule, it’s important to know the Thunderbirds put up those numbers against Oregon and Stephen F. Austin.
It’s not likely the Panthers will be able to stop Tyler on Saturday night, but if they want to get what’s likely to end up as a much-needed road win they’re going to need to be able to slow him down.
Farley said after the loss to Iowa State he expected more from his defensive line. Versus Cal Poly, the Panthers were able to get to the quarterback twice, but Farley mentioned how different the playing conditions were against the triple-option. So those two sacks come with a proverbial grant of salt. Also, only one of those two sacks against Cal Poly was from a defensive lineman.
Needless to say, the opportunity to win may well come down to pass rushing production from a group that hasn’t produced quite enough through two games. Especially when the opponent’s quarterback comparisons involve a name like reigning Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Tyler passed for 414 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for another score in SUU’s 51-14 win.
“I read an article from Southern Utah that said (Tyler) had a Lamar Jackson-type week last week against Stephen F. Austin,” Farley said. “But he did. You can see the comparison (to Jackson) when you watch him on film — his escapability.”