CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa is headed west to take on Big Sky champion UC Davis (9-2) in the second round of the FCS playoffs.
The sixth-seeded Aggies boast one of the FCS’ most prolific offenses while the Panthers (7-5) are working through a number of injuries to their defense.
The winner advances to the quarterfinals against the winner. Here are three keys for a UNI win against UC Davis.
1. Get off the bus running
A similar goal to weeks past as the Panthers improved to 6-0 when Marcus Weymiller has at least 20 carries. UNI’s running game has been a safeguard for its inconsistent passing game throughout the back half of the season and it’ll need to be at the forefront of the game plan against the Aggies.
The Panthers hold a considerable size advantage at the line of scrimmage — just like they did last week against Lamar — and it’d be a surprise to not see them take advantage.
Weymiller and Trevor Allen both went over 100 yards in last Saturday’s 16-13 win over Lamar and it may take a repeat performance to get a second-round win.
2. Heightened headset comms continue
Since wide receivers coach Pat McCann has taken over play-calling duties, he and head coach Mark Farley have complimented the communication and in-game adjustments that’s gone on through their headsets.
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“We’re constantly talking on the headset during the game about what direction we want to go with things,” McCann said. “Probably the biggest thing is Coach Farley has been great on the headset with me as far as he’s been positive and giving me constructive feedback.”
Tight ends coach Nick Danielson and offensive line coach Ryan Clanton also have played a large part in game-planning and in-game communication. McCann acknowledged this week the trio has even introduced a few new concepts that were common to their backgrounds. Maintaining this new level of headset communication along with a few new wrinkles on the offense could prove to be the edge the Panthers need to advance to the quarterfinals.
3. Move the pocket
In UC Davis’ two losses, quarterback Jake Meier suffered three sacks and was hit 10 times. He also threw five of his six interceptions.
The All-Big Sky QB prefers to operate from the pocket so the Panthers’ ability to disrupt his pocket could be Saturday’s biggest key. UNI’s deep defensive line is one of the best that’s left of the 16 teams still playing and it likely cannot afford an off game against the Aggies.
Sacks aren’t necessarily a requirement, but pushing Meier off his spot and forcing him to make off-rhythm, off-platform throws has proved to be an effective way to create incompletions and turnovers.