UNI Panthers

UNI football at South Dakota: 3 keys to victory

Panthers look to bounce back on the road

Northern Iowa linebacker Rickey Neal Jr. (7) and defensive lineman Elerson Smith (47) sack North Dakota State quarterback Easton Stick during last Saturday’s game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Northern Iowa linebacker Rickey Neal Jr. (7) and defensive lineman Elerson Smith (47) sack North Dakota State quarterback Easton Stick during last Saturday’s game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

After giving No. 1 North Dakota State a run for 3 1/2 quarters before falling 56-31, Northern Iowa football will look to bounce back this Saturday against South Dakota (3-2, 2-0) at the DakotaDome in Vermillion.

Here are three keys to a UNI win against the Coyotes:

1. Pressure the quarterback

South Dakota quarterback Austin Simmons has done a respectable job taking the torch from former All-MVFC QB Chris Streveler. Simmons isn’t quite the runner Streveler was but he’s been a problem for opposing defenses.

In each of the Coyotes’ three wins this season he’s thrown for more than 330 yards, topping out with a 462-yard performance in a 43-28 win over Northern Colorado. South Dakota head coach Bob Nielson is known for his up-tempo, air-it-out brand of offense, so if the Panthers want to grab a much-needed road win, they’ll need to slow down Simmons and the Coyote offense.

Through UNI’s five games, the weakest level of its defense has been the secondary. There’s inexperience at the back end and head coach Mark Farley reiterated at his Monday press conference that it’ll take time for that group to hit its peak.

In light of that, it’s necessary that a veteran defensive line step up and create consistent pressure on Simmons. Rickey Neal, Jared Brinkman, Seth Thomas and others need to bring their A-game to the DakotaDome and help their secondary look good.

2. Keep spreading the wealth

Eli Dunne racked up a season-high 362 yards and completed passes to eight different receivers in last week’s loss to North Dakota State. The Bison defense is routinely a top-five unit and Dunne’s ability to distribute the ball to different pass catchers made NDSU’s defense look average for 3 1/2 quarters.

Dunne’s distribution to different targets in the passing game creates problems for opposing defenses. The inability for opponents to zero in on one or two receivers can continue to make UNI’s passing game explosive.

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If Dunne can connect with seven or more receivers against the Coyotes, it will go a long way toward a road win.

3. Put the ‘special’ in special teams

Through five games, the highlight of UNI’s special teams has been the consistency and effectiveness of kicker Austin Errthum. Errthum is 8 of 10 this season and while his performance cannot be taken for granted, it’s an ideal time for the Panthers to muster up a game-changing play on special teams.

If UNI wants to reach the FCS Playoffs, it’ll more than likely need to win five of its six remaining games. Part of being able to go on such a run in the Valley requires playmaking from all three phases.

Whether it’s a long kick or punt return, blocked kick or punt, or forcing a turnover in kick or punt coverage, such a play can be the deciding factor in what’s sure to be a tough conference road game against the Coyotes.

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