116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — After a dismal first half and halftime deficit of 9-7, Northern Iowa Coach Mark Farley and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson decided it was time to see what they had in Michigan State transfer quarterback Theo Day Saturday night against Sacramento State.
After forcing the Hornets into a three-and-out to begin the second half, Day led the Panthers on a six play, 78-yard touchdown-scoring drive in his debut series, with completions of 12 and 48 yards to Quan Hampton and Isaiah Weston, respectively.
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound QB breathed new life into UNI’s offense with his elite arm strength, as the Panthers scored four third-quarter touchdowns with him under center and coasted to a 34-16 win at Hornet Stadium.
“The thought process was we were running the ball very well in the first half. We were getting the runs, but we weren’t getting the passes,” Farley said on the Panther Sports Network postgame show. “I just felt we had to get the passing game going, otherwise we were going to be one-dimensional. The way we were playing defense I knew we were going to have to score points. So, we made the change and said, ‘let’s find out now in this half, let’s do it now and not wait,’ and pulled the trigger on it and it worked out. Theo did a tremendous job.”
Day finished 6-of-11 passing with 120 yards and two touchdowns. And as exciting as his debut was, Saturday night also marked one of the best performances in years for UNI’s run game.
Dom Williams led all ball-carriers with 97 yards on 16 carries and combined with Vance McShane and Bradrick Shaw for 219 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
“It was a great rushing game and it can be better,” Farley said. “But, 219 (yards) we’ll take it. We haven’t had a hundred-yard rusher in a long time. We need two hundred-yard rushers. We’re capable of that right now with these players. If we can open up this passing game it’ll create a better run game and then you’ve got balance and then you’ve got a great football team.”
Defensively the Panthers finally got the takeaways they’ve been gunning for since only averaging one per game during the spring season.
Korby Sander, Benny Sapp III and Omar Brown each had interceptions, while Spencer Cuvelier had a pair of fumble recoveries and Caden Houghtelling grabbed one.
“This team could be special. Its got a lot of work to do,” Farley said. “We’re not even close to being where we need to be, but you can see tonight there are flashes there that there’s a possibility that if they do their work they’ve got a chance to be good.”
UNI (1-1) hosts St. Thomas (1-0) Saturday for its home-opener at 4 p.m.