CEDAR FALLS — A shorthanded Northern Iowa football team travels to No. 8 South Dakota State (7-3, 4-2) Saturday.
No. 4 UNI (7-3, 5-1) won last season’s matchup against the Jackrabbits 24-9, but with running back Tyler Hoosman (ankle) out and star receiver Isaiah Weston (lower body) questionable the Panthers have obstacles to overcome.
The Jackrabbits are coming off a 27-16 loss to Illinois State and continue to be without starting quarterback J’Bore Gibbs, who was injured three weeks ago against North Dakota State.
Here are three things to watch for in Saturday’s game.
1. Isaiah Weston’s status
UNI head coach Mark Farley said on his weekly radio show on the Panther Sports Network Thursday night that Weston will be a game-time decision.
UNI’s offense was inept after Weston left last Saturday’s game against Indiana State before halftime, but Farley said afterwards that their game plan probably had too much in it for Weston, making adjustments more difficult than usual. It’s likely there could be separate game plans based on whether or not Weston plays.
2. Special special teams
As the Panthers piled up wins the past few weeks, Farley began bringing up the importance of special teams. While UNI’s offensive is explosive, it hasn’t been consistent, and field position and converting makeable field goals are more likely to be the difference as the margin for error begins to shrink.
3. Stop the run, win the game
In the series’ recent history, the Panthers’ likelihood of beating the Jackrabbits can be tied to its success, or lack thereof, stopping the run. In their last two wins against SDSU, the Panthers limited the Jackrabbits to 51 and 52 rushing yards. In their last two losses to SDSU, the Panthers allowed 143 and 134 rushing yards.
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“You’ve got to be able to run the ball this time of year,” Farley said. “When you get (to) this time of the year, I mean, if there is a wind factor, if there is a temperature factor it affects the throwing game. That’s why you can have a lot better ability to control a game, to stay ahead of the sticks, with a rushing game. You’ve gotta have a great rushing attack and a great rush defense and if you do this time of the year, those are the teams that will be standing at the end.”
UNI vs. South Dakota State
Time: 2 p.m.
Watch online: ESPN3
Radio: KGYM-AM 1600
Listen online: TuneIn
Line: South Dakota State -6.5
Prediction: UNI 20 South Dakota State 14
UNI’s defense limits Pierre Strong and the Jackrabbits running game. Matthew Cook hits a couple clutch field goals and McElvain and the offense does just enough.