116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — After a shocking overtime loss at Illinois State, No. 20 Northern Iowa (5-4, 3-3) travels to No. 16 Missouri State on Saturday.
Picked sixth in the Missouri Valley Football Conference preseason poll, the Bears (6-3, 5-2) have won all four home games this season and are coming off a 38-28 road win at then-No. 7 Southern Illinois.
Ranked second in the MVFC in total offense, Missouri State has been led by quarterback Jason Shelley, who sits second in the conference in yards per game (277.4).
The Panthers lead the all-time series 34-6, but lost their matchup with the Bears in the spring season, 13-6.
Here are three keys for UNI against Missouri State.
1. Back to good
After injuries to wide receiver Quan Hampton and guard Justin Peine, UNI has shown more 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends) the previous two weeks than all prior weeks combined and the results have been lackluster.
Running more 12 personnel is understandable given how injury has impacted its offense, but after two weeks of poor results in the run game, it seems that staying spread out in 11 or 20 personnel — like the Panthers were in much of their first seven games — is worth a revisit, especially if running back Vance McShane is able to return after missing last week’s game.
2. Special, special teams
This key keeps showing up and rightfully so.
UNI’s defense is top-tier and its offense isn’t. As a result of that mixture, the Panthers have had their best games this season when punter Nate Murphy has won the field position game and when kicker Matthew Cook has converted on the field goals he’s been asked to try.
If the defense is able to slow down a Bears offense that’s scored more than 30 points in seven of its nine games, it’ll need a productive effort from its special teams units to make the difference in what’s likely to be a close game.
3. One Day at a time
Since his breakthrough performance in the second half of week 2’s comeback win at Sacramento State, UNI quarterback Theo Day has put forth a mixed bag of production in his following seven starts.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that this season is Day’s first as a college starter and first season starting games since 2017 when he was at Divine Child High School in Canton, Mich. However, if an annual program goal of making the FCS playoffs is to be realized, Day needs to take a definitive step forward in his development Saturday against the Bears and prove he can deliver when the pressure is on.
UNI at Missouri State
Kickoff time: 2 p.m. (CT)
Line: Missouri State -2.5
Live stream: ESPN+ (subscription required)
Prediction: UNI 24 Missouri State 21