CEDAR FALLS — Saturday’s 42-28 win over South Dakota wasn’t technically a must-win game for Northern Iowa football, but a loss would have likely set up a win-out scenario that would begin with a matchup at 4 p.m. Saturday against No. 3 South Dakota State (4-1, 2-1).
Knowing the stakes against the Coyotes and the personnel available to them, the Panthers’ defensive staff came to Vermillion, S.D., with a defense it had yet to show in 2018. Typically, UNI (3-3, 2-1) uses variations of a 4-2-5 alignment but Saturday, it deployed a 3-3-5 for a majority of South Dakota’s 87 offensive snaps.
“Giving the team the best chance with the players we had to win that football game,” UNI head coach Mark Farley said of implementing the new alignment. “It turned out well. It’s moreso the people that you play and who do you get back this week that we didn’t have last week. We’ll see how it fits up with South Dakota State this coming week, and weeks to come, but it worked well for us last week.”
While the Coyotes totaled 325 yards through the air, quarterback Austin Simmons needed 46 attempts to reach that number. Xavior Williams intercepted Simmons while the defensive line piled up five sacks. The highlight was a sack-fumble courtesy of an Elerson Smith strip-sack and Brawntae Wells’ recovery of the fumble in the end zone.
On top of getting to the quarterback, UNI’s defense held South Dakota to 99 yards rushing.
Farley is encouraged by, but still challenging, his defensive line.
“They really did a nice job last week,” Farley said. “Can they progress this week? Will they progress this week? Do I expect them to? They have to. (South Dakota State) is better. They’re more physical.”
South Dakota’s 87 offensive snaps took a toll on UNI’s defense, most notably to inside linebacker Chris Kolarevic. The redshirt freshman from Michigan had been a standout through his first six starts, racking up a team-high 65 tackles. After being helped off the field late during Saturday’s game, he was seen in a walking boot and on crutches afterward. Farley said Monday he wouldn’t know details about Kolarevic’s status until later in the week.
Offensively, UNI continued to produce in its win over South Dakota. Eli Dunne was named the MVFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Coyotes. The senior quarterback completed 23 of his 32 passes for 253 yards with four passing touchdowns and one rushing.
Through two conference games, Dunne is leading the MVFC in completion percentage and touchdowns.
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“(Eli is) one of the better quarterbacks we’ve had here in a long, long time,” Farley said. “I think he’s demonstrated the type of person he is, the type of quarterback he is when the Iowa (benching) happened to him. He didn’t let that faze him then. He’s played very well ever since.”
No. 25 UNI hosts No. 2 South Dakota State (4-1, 2-1) for its annual Homecoming game Saturday at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. Kick is set for 4 p.m. (KCRG 9.2/ESPN+)