116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — After a narrow loss at Iowa State, No. 16 Northern Iowa (0-1) travels to Sacramento State (1-0) on Saturday for its first FCS game of the season.
Picked fifth in the Big Sky Conference’s preseason poll, Sacramento State is coming off a 19-7 win at Dixie State last week in which it ran for 207 yards.
The game will be UNI’s first against the Hornets, the 2019 Big Sky champions.
Here are three keys for UNI against Sacramento State:
1. Live up to the cliche
It doesn’t take long once anyone becomes a football fan to hear the cliche, “defense travels.” If the Panthers are going to give themselves a shot to beat a good opponent on the west coast their defense is going to have to put up a performance similar to last week’s at Iowa State.
After holding Heisman Trophy candidate Breece Hall to 69 yards on 23 carries, the talent is obviously there to limit the Hornets run game that ran wild against Dixie State last week. What could prove most difficult is game-planning for Sacramento State’s passing attack. Last week the Hornets played a pair of junior quarterbacks — Asher O’Hara and Jake Dunniway. O’Hara started and completed 13 of his 21 attempts for 119 yards and two touchdowns while Dunniway completed six of his nine attempts for 74 yards.
2. Run game stubbornness
After the loss to Iowa State, head coach Mark Farley said he wished his team had ran the ball more. While the results weren’t great against the Cyclones, the Panthers did show flashes of run-game success and should be poised to find more against the Hornets as their defense simply doesn’t measure up to the Cyclones.
Being stubborn with its run game should be worth it, as it could finally breathe some much-needed life into UNI’s play-action passing game.
3. More from McElvain
Third-year starter Will McElvain’s season debut against Iowa State wasn’t perfect, but watch the tape and there are plenty of examples of the improvement Farley spoke about him making during the preseason quarterback competition.
Multiple times when he could have left the pocket, he instead sidestepped a pass rusher and stepped up in the pocket. This allowed him to make completions he otherwise wouldn’t have outside the pocket, and on other occasions, it presented better opportunities for him to gain yards with his feet. The Panthers will need their experienced signal-caller to put forth another performance that proves why he won the preseason quarterback competition.
UNI at Sacramento State
Kickoff time: 8 p.m. (CT)
Line: UNI -5-½
Live stream: ESPN+