CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa football and its 6-5 record got an at-large bid to the FCS Playoffs and was not considered one of the 24-team field’s “last three in.”
The Panthers face off against Lamar (7-4) in the first round at 4 p.m. Saturday at the UNI-Dome (ESPN3) and are heavily favored to defeat the Cardinals. The winner will play at UC Davis next week.
Here are three keys to a UNI win against Lamar.
1. Make Lamar Throw
If the Panthers are going to make Lamar deviate from its run-first and run-second philosophy, it will require a disciplined effort by all 11 starters.
Defensive end Elerson Smith told The Gazette this week that gap discipline and not trying to do too much will be key toward an effective defensive effort against the Cardinals.
If UNI is able to stuff Lamar’s run game and put it behind the chains on a number of drives, it’ll force the Cardinals to turn to the air. Once the Cardinals are forced to make plays in the passing game, the already great odds for the Panthers to win this first-round matchup will only increase.
2. Takeaways, Not Turnovers
Different words same result, but, not entirely. Instead of waiting for Lamar to throw an interception or have a ball-carrier put the ball on the turf, the Panthers need to impose their will and take the ball away.
UNI has proven throughout the season that it’s capable of forcing offenses to commit uncharacteristic turnovers and it will need to make Lamar do just that. The Cardinals have more fumbles and interceptions this season than the Panthers, so statistically speaking, the opportunities should be there.
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UNI continues to battle through injuries on its defense but the consistent teaching of making plays on the ball has so far transcended poor health.
“Turnovers are going to be a huge factor in a game like this,” UNI coach Mark Farley said this week. “Your mistakes will be magnified in games from here on out. Turnovers on both sides of the ball will be key.”
3. 20 Remains a Magic Number
After last Saturday’s 37-0 win over Missouri State in its regular-season finale, UNI is now 9-1 the past two seasons — 5-0 this season — when Marcus Weymiller carries the ball 20-plus times. There’s no questioning how much more effective quarterback Eli Dunne and the rest of the offense is when Weymiller is getting a healthy share of the work on offense.
Also, part of this key that appeared before last week was the need to find another effective ball-carrier to spell Weymiller in light of Trevor Allen’s continued absence due to an ankle injury. Tyler Hoosman, who had shown flashes before last week, stepped up in the regular season finale as a productive second ball-carrier, totaling 53 yards on 11 carries.
Another thing to consider when it comes to pining for Weymiller getting 20-plus carries against Lamar is the keep-away effect it should create against a team that relies on long, time-consuming drives to score points.