116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — No. 12 Northern Iowa has entered a rivalry week in a good place.
The 12th-ranked Panthers routed Youngstown State, 34-7, in their Missouri Valley Football Conference opener Saturday for their third straight win and will head to No. 5 North Dakota State (4-0, 1-0) this Saturday with plenty of earned confidence.
“I was very pleased with our play (Saturday). We really played a good first half,” UNI Coach Mark Farley said. “It was a special teams play that kind of activated the first score and then, (our) rushing attack got things going after that and then the play-action pass was what people really saw because of the (deep) ball.”
Along with all those elements of the offense working well, UNI’s defense continued to prove itself as a top-tier unit in the FCS. Most notably, the Panthers held Penguins running back Jaleel McLaughlin — who entered Saturday’s game averaging 137.3 yards per game — to 20 yards on 12 carries.
Along with the praise for his team’s blowout of the Penguins, Farley complimented quarterback Theo Day for continuing to make progress in what was just his second start of the season.
“I thought that (bye) week of working with the receivers really helped him get things timed up a little bit better,” Farley said.
Saturday’s win marked yet another impressive performance by UNI’s four running backs. The group combined for 200 rushing yards and Vance McShane added a 50-yard touchdown reception. Despite their success, Farley mentioned that NDSU is their stiffest test yet.
“When you’re playing against really good teams what you find out is sometimes they get a lot of penetration, sometimes they don’t based off what happens in the play, and a lot of a great running back is instincts of when to make the cut and make the move,” Farley said. “I think with the combination of (Dom Williams, Bradrick Shaw and McShane) they’ve proven to do that. We’ll find out a lot about our running backs on Saturday.”
Along with the test UNI’s running backs are sure to encounter against the Bison, its defense will be tested by NDSU’s No. 1 rushing offense that’s producing 317 yards per game. Interestingly, the Bison have produced their FCS-leading rushing game with six different ball-carriers averaging more than 30 yards per game, led by Dominic Gonnella’s 68.8 per game average.
“You’re going to get a fresh back coming at you and a different style of back coming at you every down,” Farley said. “I think the key (reason) why we’re having success right now is we have multiple backs and fresh backs. They have fresh backs. I think it starts with their quarterback. They are, once again, a very good football team and a great rushing attack.”
Headed into what’s sure to be the most raucous environment since it’s season-opener at Iowa State, Farley embraced what the Fargodome is sure to offer Saturday, particularly after limited crowds due to the pandemic last season.
“It’s fun to be in that environment after going through last year,” Farley said. “I’d much rather be in that environment than the stale environment of nobody in the stands. It creates the excitement of the game and that’s why we play the game.”
Farley said wide receiver Logan Wolf (hamstring) and defensive lineman Khristian Boyd (undisclosed) are questionable for Saturday’s game. Meanwhile, tight end Jayden Scott (undisclosed) is likely to miss multiple weeks.