CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa’s defense led the way in Saturday afternoon’s home-opener against Southern Utah, holding the Thunderbirds to 227 yards on 77 plays for a 34-14 win, Coach Mark Farley’s 150th of his career.
“What I was most concerned about was how we’d come out off that Iowa State game,” Farley said. “We were a little lethargic coming out, but it was a good first half, and it was a good enough first half that we could take control of the second half. We got a little sloppy at the end but very pleased with the entire football team. We can build off this.”
UNI’s defense has allowed only 27 points through eight quarters of regulation this season
“They’re playing good together,” Farley said. “There’s only one drive we kind of got out of sync on.”
UNI quarterback Will McElvain took another step forward Saturday. The redshirt freshman completed 17 of 25 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns.
“You ought to see (Will) during the week,” Farley said. “He’s the last one off the field at night. He’s up in the offices all the time. He’s getting the ball out quick and he knows where the ball should go. He’s dangerous.”
McElvain’s first TD was a 56-yard completion to Deion McShane late in the first quarter where the sophomore receiver rolled over the defensive back, keeping his knees off the ground in the process to run in for the score. He finished the game with 110 yards on eight receptions and has 15 catches through two games.
“I thought I underthrew it so when (Deion) caught it, I thought he was going to get tackled right away, then I just heard the crowd so I had to watch it on the (videoboard) to see what happened,” McElvain said. “It was wild.”
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Leading 7-0 after the first quarter McElvain threw for 148 yards and two touchdowns in the second. A six play, 67-yard drive ended with a 39-yard TD pass to Isaiah Weston and a 10 play, 61-yard drive ended with a 10-yard TD pass to Jaylin James.
“I think that we got off to a slow start the first couple drives but we started to make things happen and that starts with me just going where I’m supposed to go with the ball,” McElvain said.
UNI’s offense, which scored on five consecutive possessions between the second and third quarters, finished sloppily as Farley mentioned. Isaiah Weston and Nick McCabe fumbled in the fourth quarter and the running game struggled again, gaining 26 yards on 15 first-half carries and averaging 2.8 yards per rush for the game.
“We have to get better at (the run) there’s no question. Everybody’s frustrated that we’re not running the ball better than we are,” Farley said. “We can do some things. We’ve got good enough players.”
UNI is idle next week before hosting Idaho State on Sept. 21 at 4 p.m.
“I’m excited (for) what could happen,” Farley said. “But we’ve still got a lot of work to make it happen.”