116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — After a 34-21 home loss to No. 15 South Dakota, No. 20 Northern Iowa (3-3, 1-2) travels to No. 6 South Dakota State on Saturday.
Picked first in the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s preseason poll, the Jackrabbits (5-1, 2-1) began their season with an FBS win, 42-23, at Colorado State. Three wins against Lindenwood, Indiana State and Dixie State followed before suffering a 42-41 overtime loss at home against No. 4 Southern Illinois two weeks ago.
SDSU has flexed its muscle on both sides of the ball this season, averaging 45.8 points per game while only allowing 16.
The Panthers lead the all-time series 32-23-2 and have split their last four matchups with the Jackrabbits.
Here’s three keys for UNI against South Dakota State:
1. Clean it up
Special teams errors and turnovers have defined UNI’s back-to-back losses to North Dakota State and South Dakota. Yes, this is painfully obvious, but those errors cannot continue if the Panthers want to keep themselves in the playoff hunt.
UNI has proved this season that it’s an improved team from 2020, but its offense isn’t explosive enough to cover up for special teams mistakes or continued turnover issues.
Moments like now in this season are when UNI’s new practice facility needs to prove its worth. Having an outdoor turf field to practice on, in the elements, ahead of a trip to Brookings, S.D., should be a big help toward correcting special teams errors. When it comes to fumbles and interceptions, the health of the offensive line and continued growth between quarterback Theo Day and his receivers will be critical.
2. Line leverage
While last week’s errors in the loss to South Dakota were upsetting for head coach Mark Farley, losing the line of scrimmage proved to be most frustrating.
“They won the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football. That’s one of our standards,” Farley said. “Even without the errors, we lost the line of scrimmage.”
Injuries to Khristian Boyd, Brawntae Wells, Justin Peine, Hayden Amos and Matthew Vanderslice have eaten away at the Panthers defensive and offensive line depth and provoked position changes on both sides of the ball. Farley said Monday that Peine was questionable for Saturday’s game and his return looms large as it would shift Erik Sorensen back to his natural position at center. Meanwhile, defensive lineman Khristian Boyd is probable for Saturday and would give UNI the ability to run its 4-2-5 defense much more than it has the past two weeks.
3. Forecasting a game plan
Given a chilly 50-degree forecast and wind gusts that could get up to 20 miles per hour, the ability for either team to establish its run game looks critical.
UNI’s improved run game is averaging 145.2 yards per game this season; however, SDSU is averaging 225.2 yards per game, led by Pierre Strong Jr’s 128.3 yard mark per game that leads FCS.
UNI at South Dakota State
Kickoff time: 2 p.m. (CT)
Live stream: ESPN3
Prediction: South Dakota State 31, UNI 20