UNI Panthers

UNI football takeaways: Familiarity is key to offense making big plays

Panthers doing some self-scouting ahead of trip to Missouri State

Northern Iowa Panthers wide receiver Isaiah Weston (80) reaches up for a 39-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Will McElvain (13) with Youngstown State Penguins defensive back Melvin Jackson (23) trailing during the first quarter of their game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. The play gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Northern Iowa Panthers wide receiver Isaiah Weston (80) reaches up for a 39-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Will McElvain (13) with Youngstown State Penguins defensive back Melvin Jackson (23) trailing during the first quarter of their game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. The play gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — After a much-needed, 42-27, win over South Dakota on Saturday, 11th-ranked Northern Iowa still has a shot at a first-round bye in the FCS playoffs.

UNI (4-2, 2-1) travels to struggling Missouri State (1-5, 1-2) this Saturday. The Bears are coming off a 22-0 loss to top-ranked North Dakota State and have lost their last 13 meetings against the Panthers.

Here’s what we learned at coach Mark Farley’s weekly news conference Monday.

Familiarity helping UNI’s big-play offense

More than halfway through the regular season, UNI’s youthful offense has begun to form an identity. First-year offensive coordinator Ryan Mahaffey and redshirt freshman QB Will McElvain continue to become more familiar with strengths and weaknesses.

In their previous three games, the Panthers have 18 plays of 20 yards or more with seven of those plays coming on the ground, displaying a continual improvement with a running game that struggled to begin the season.

“There’s just a little bit of probably a continuity thing (and) once you start to make some plays you know how to build some things around the players’ talent (from) what was good and bad early in the year,” Farley said. “And then players making plays, too.”

Patience pays

UNI also is learning on defense. Against South Dakota’s up-tempo, pass-heavy offense Saturday, the Panthers saw their patience tested as they largely stuck with their 3-3-5 defense while the Coyotes ran 91 plays.

South Dakota racked up 422 yards of total offense — 299 passing — but UNI’s decision to go with an extra defensive back over defensive lineman paid off. Its six takeaways were its highest mark in a game since 2012.

“(Patience) was a big part of it,” Farley said. “To make the corrections on the sideline, to stay in the plan, but, the players had to be able to adapt and correct those errors very quickly, too.”

Self-scouting to avoid a letdown

UNI’s trip to Springfield, Mo., on Saturday is the kind of matchup that elicits questions of a possible letdown.

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However, the Bears only trailed top-ranked North Dakota State 15-0 at the end of the third quarter. Farley mentioned Monday the Bears’ defense displayed some positive signs in their loss to the Coyotes as he watched film in preparation for South Dakota.

UNI’s head coach also explained how he spent Monday morning self-scouting to avoid a letdown.

“We just spent (Monday) morning watching some of the things we’ve been doing wrong for the past three, four weeks (to) find out what’s consistent that we need to correct in the next three days of practice,” Farley said. “I always try to go back during the season (and) review what you’re doing right and wrong so you can make those corrections during the season.”

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