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UNI Panthers

UNI football QB competition: Will McElvain, Jacob Keller separate themselves

Coach Mark Farley emphasizes ball security

Justin Fomby (11), Will McElvain (13) Jacob Keller (15) and Nate Martens (14) are potential starting quarterbacks for Northern Iowa during Media Day for the UNI football at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls on Wednesday, August 7, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Justin Fomby (11), Will McElvain (13) Jacob Keller (15) and Nate Martens (14) are potential starting quarterbacks for Northern Iowa during Media Day for the UNI football at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls on Wednesday, August 7, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa football coach Mark Farley did not name a starting quarterback during media day Wednesday at the UNI-Dome.

No surprise there.

He did, however, separate the four quarterbacks vying for the starting job into two groups.

UNI’s 19th-year coach revealed redshirt sophomore Jacob Keller and redshirt freshman Will McElvain have separated themselves through five fall camp practices.

“There’s no question that the two — 1a, 1b, tied for first place right now — would be McElvain and Keller,” Farley said. “(Justin) Fomby and (Nate) Martens will be the other (group). Just two groups right now. Should that change, which it very easily could because of experience — the other two just know the system better and can do some things at the line of scrimmage mentally that the other two can’t right now.”

Farley said ball security is the No. 1 thing he and his offensive staff are looking for in a QB. He also repeated his thoughts from spring that whoever meshes best with his teammates and proves an ability to consistently find a rhythm will start.

McElvain and Keller said they put an emphasis on learning the playbook this summer, and Keller mentioned he has a trademark response whenever they drill ball security in practice.

“I don’t like turning the ball over, so I’d say I’m doing OK,” Keller said. “I think (I’ve) had an (interception) and a fumble type thing, but it’s just about learning.

“When we do ball security (drills) I start off by saying — they’ll blow the horn and they’ll be like ‘ball security’ — I just yell ‘job security’ because that’s what it is.”

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McElvain, who’s more well-known by his coaches and teammates for his playmaking than Keller, spoke about finding the balance between ball security and maintaining his aggressive nature.

“You’ve got to take the plays that are there. You can’t force anything,” McElvain said. “The rest should take care of itself.”

McElvain and Keller’s teammates don’t seem to be playing favorites. Senior running back Trevor Allen said he’s excited about both. Sophomore receiver Deion McShane echoed Allen’s comments.

“Jacob Keller is a good quarterback. His run game is set up perfect for him to be on the field in like 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends),” McShane said. “Then Will is more of our thrower because he can throw pretty far. I hang with Jacob a lot, but I’ll be on the field more with Will. So I can’t really pick between them.”

Close friends, McElvain and Keller admit they have envisioned themselves as the starter in Week 1 in front of a crowd of more than 60,000 on national TV (FS1) against Iowa State.

“I definitely have thought about that for a long time, you know,” McElvain said. “I was once committed to Iowa State so it’s going to be an amazing atmosphere and opportunity to play in that game. No matter who it is (at QB).”

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