116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — Any chance Northern Iowa might have to earn an at-large berth into the FCS playoffs comes with the assumption of a win Saturday at South Dakota.
Picked sixth in the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s preseason poll, the Coyotes are 3-7 overall and 2-5 in the conference.
South Dakota’s pedestrian offense is led by a two-headed backfield featuring sophomore Travis Theis and redshirt freshman Shomari Lawrence. The duo has combined to rush for 126 yards per game this season. At quarterback, Iowa State transfer Aidan Bouman has taken over the starting job since helping lead a 27-24 upset win over No. 14 Southern Illinois in Week 8.
The Coyotes are coming off a 28-19 loss at North Dakota, but have split their previous four games, which also includes a win at home against Missouri State in Week 10.
Here are three keys for the Panthers (5-5, 4-3) against South Dakota.
1. One-dimensional dominance
UNI senior defensive back Korby Sander told The Gazette this week slowing down the Coyotes run game is a priority, so executing that plan and forcing the inexperienced Bouman to make game-winning plays seems like a sensible blueprint.
As good as the recipe sounds, the Panthers defense will need to prove it can keep Bouman from pulling an upset like he did against the Salukis four weeks ago.
2. Fluster the freshman
If UNI is going to dare Bouman to beat them, Panthers Coach Mark Farley needs to take advantage of his team’s experience. Scheme creative blitzes that the redshirt freshman hasn’t seen this season.
The Panthers defense has come up short of its expectations this season, but it’s plenty capable of scheming well-disguised and intricate blitzes. And when considering the situation UNI finds itself in for an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs, it’s hard to think of a reason not to have such exotic blitzes on its menu of play calls Saturday.
3. Let it rip
As good as the Panthers offense has been this season and as much well-deserved praise co-offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder has gotten as a play-caller, there’s no reason to hold back anything at this point.
UNI not only needs a win against South Dakota, but might be able to help its case for an at-large playoff bid with a dominant, decisive victory.
While in most cases it may be against Farley’s and Reeder’s instincts to stay aggressive with a lead late in the third quarter or in the fourth quarter, the chance of winning by more than two scores could help in the eyes of the playoff committee. That’s more than enough reason to forgo unwritten sportsmanship rules and rack up as many points as possible.
UNI at South Dakota
Kickoff time: 1 p.m. (CT)
Live stream: ESPN+
Prediction: UNI 35, South Dakota 21