CEDAR FALLS — South Dakota State is eager to get another shot at Northern Iowa.
The Jackrabbits get their wish Saturday in round two of the FCS playoffs.
South Dakota State (9-2) lost to the Panthers, 38-18, in a lackluster performance on homecoming in Week 7. It was a game that went wayward with a pair of mishandled special teams snaps, two fumbles and an interception amid wet playing conditions.
Ranked No. 7 at the time, South Dakota State also was hurt in that first meeting by the return of Marcus Weymiller to UNI’s backfield. The walk-on from Waukon carried the ball 42 times for 170 yards in the win, production that played a large role in the Panthers executing a game plan to keep SDSU’s high-powered offense off the field with time of possession.
“As always, they’ve got some tremendous players,” UNI head coach Mark Farley said. “You keep seeing the same guys show up all the time. The quarterback, their tight end, their receiver, their linebackers. It’s the same players that are being very effective out there making plays.”
So, if the Panthers (8-4) intend to limit the damage done by SDSU’s playmaking trio of quarterback Tarion Christion, tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver Jake Wieneke again, they’re going to need a healthy Weymiller. Fortunately they were able to give their workhorse ball-carrier a rest in a 46-7 win last Saturday against Monmouth. Weymiller, who was battling sickness last Saturday, carried 17 times for 74 yards but did not play in the second half.
The storylines out of Brookings, S.D., show an eagerness to redeem that earlier loss, something even Farley acknowledged he had come across earlier this week.
“I’ve read a lot about the rematch, as they’re calling it,” Farley said. “That’s their’s to prepare for. It’s our job to get our guys ready now. We’re just going to go to work. I expect our players will come prepared.”
Questions linger as to how different and/or better each team is now compared to seven weeks ago. Farley is adamant his team has improved since the 38-18 win. The same can be said for SDSU, which hasn’t lost since the Oct. 14 tilt.
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“I don’t know if they’re any different,” Farley said. “They haven’t lost since we played them, so they’ve really been playing great football. Their execution is very good now, too, in all phases of the game.”
While UNI’s strategy to possess the football on offense and therein keep the dynamic Jackrabbit offense off the field likely is once again the game plan. A key component to winning the previous matchup was the Panthers’ ability to make SDSU’s offense one-dimensional when it did get on the field. UNI’s run defense held SDSU to 52 yards on 23 attempts.
“Between Adam and Bryce and Preston, they’re doing a great job inside stopping the run,” Farley said. “Then we’re getting our (run) fits right and that comes from the secondary and from the linebackers to make sure we’re where we need to be. Especially our front four have really done a nice job of doing the things they need to do to allow your second-level players an opportunity to make plays. And we’ve been a better tackling football team.”
Saturday’s game kicks off at 2 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN3.