CEDAR FALLS — The Northern Iowa football team got back on track last weekend with a 44-0 win over Hampton at the UNI-Dome.
While the Panthers seem to be trending in the right direction after losing their first two games, they’re facing a quick five-day turnaround before Thursday night’s Missouri Valley Football Conference opener in Terre Haute, Ind., against Indiana State (2-1) at Memorial Stadium (6 p.m., ESPN3).
Acknowledging the brief turnaround, as well as Indiana State’s emergence, here are three keys to a UNI victory against the Sycamores:
1. Control Indiana State’s run game
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for Indiana State’s 2-1 start after an 0-11 2017 has been the emergence of its rushing attack (280.3 ypg).
Ja’Quan Keys is averaging just shy of 140 rushing yards per game, while three other Sycamore ball-carriers are averaging nearly 40 yards per contest.
UNI’s defense places a large emphasis on its players being responsible for their gaps, so as long as there’s no habitual over-pursuing, it should establish an early advantage in this game. Forcing the Sycamores to move the ball through the air should go a long way toward a win.
2. Build off last week's offensive performance
Much was rightfully made of the Panthers’ slow starts in their first two games. Eli Dunne, Marcus Weymiller and the rest of the offense rebounded in week 4 against Hampton.
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Dunne finished 16 of 23 with three touchdowns, while Weymiller shouldered the run-game workload with 20 carries for 78 yards and a touchdown. If UNI wants to take their good fortunes from week 4 into Terre Haute, it will require a repeat performance from Dunne and Weymiller.
Over his career, Dunne has proven to be at his best when the Panthers’ running game is a threat. Once things become one-dimensional, the Grinnell native struggles with consistent decision-making in a high-volume passing game.
As long as UNI can stay ahead of the chains — courtesy of its run game — then the offense should be poised to give the Sycamores a handful.
3. Continue to manufacture a run game
Manufacturing a run game was a key to last week’s win against Hampton. At this point, it’s hard to say how long this element of the offense could remain within the top-3 keys to a win.
In addition to Dunne’s effectiveness, the defense definitely benefits when the clock is getting chewed up courtesy of the run game.
Against Hampton, the Panthers used a healthy amount of the “Wildcat” formation to their benefit. Head coach Mark Farley acknowledged at this week’s press conference that they’ll keep going back to it until the opponent proves they can stop it. Trevor Allen had a 51-yard rushing touchdown out of the “Wildcat” last Saturday and Marcus Weymiller’s 9-yard touchdown also came out of the exotic formation.
Perhaps counters, reverses or something else can manufacture this week’s run game, but nonetheless, offensive coordinator John Bond needs to continue to find ways to move the chains besides Dunne’s right arm.