CEDAR FALLS — If Northern Iowa’s lackluster 17-9 win over Indiana State on Saturday left fans and followers wondering if the Panthers are in fact a top-5 team in the country, the polls were not scared away.
UNI (7-3, 5-1) moved up a spot to No. 4 in this week’s FCS STATS poll after its win over the Sycamores and now goes back out on the road against No. 8 South Dakota State (7-3, 4-2) with a lot on the line.
Here’s what we learned at UNI coach Mark Farley’s weekly news conference Monday.
1. UNI injury updates
Farley revealed a trio of injury updates Monday.
Sophomore receiver Isaiah Weston is questionable for Saturday with what Farley called a “lower body injury.”
Farley said that if Weston played a position that didn’t require as much running as receiver he would have a better gauge on his status for South Dakota State.
Offensive lineman/tight end Matthew Vanderslice (ankle) is doubtful for Saturday and sophomore running back Tyler Hoosman (ankle) is out for the remainder of the regular season and questionable for a return in the playoffs after having ankle surgery last week.
Hoosman’s surgery was the same procedure Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa had on Oct. 20 before returning to play 20 days later this past Saturday against LSU.
2. Life without Isaiah Weston
Farley acknowledged after Saturday’s win that the offense’s game plan lost a lot in its packages when Weston left the game before the end of the first half with injury.
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UNI managed only two first downs and 35 total yards in the second half Saturday. So, after looking back at the game film, Farley described Monday how the Panthers’ depth has nearly become completely tapped.
“Now we’re getting to the (point) where our depth is — there’s really no place to go now,” Farley said. “We’re kind of out of bullets in that chamber right now. Now it’s more so how do we play the players that we have to their strengths.”
3. Jackrabbit jackpot
For the first time since the playoff field expanded to 24 teams, UNI is in its best position to grab one of eight first-round playoff byes. No team has won the FCS championship without a first-round bye since the 2013 expansion and Farley said Monday that the circumstances surrounding Saturday’s game are not being ignored by coaches or players.
“For each game that you win, the next one gets bigger,” Farley said. “This one got bigger by beating Indiana State. Our players know (the circumstances), but they also know they better get prepared because the message (we’ll) send is they’re playing a very, very good football team. Maybe one of the better ones South Dakota State has ever had.”