CEDAR FALLS — After getting its first road win of the season Saturday, 29-6 over struggling Missouri State, No. 10 Northern Iowa (5-3, 3-1) is back on the road this week.
The Panthers they travel to Illinois State (6-2, 3-1) for a noon kickoff against the No. 7-ranked Redbirds.
Here’s what we learned at UNI head coach Mark Farley’s weekly news conference Monday.
1. Matriculating McElvain
After piling up 18 plays of 20 or more yards in its previous three games, UNI had four such plays against Missouri State.
However, in its previous two games the Panthers have scored only 17 points off of nine turnovers, prompting Farley to acknowledge that there’s still plenty of room for growth from redshirt freshman QB Will McElvain and the offense.
“There’s still things (Will) can really improve a lot on on the football field,” Farley said. “But you also have to take into account the production that he’s had, too. He’s finding the windows. He’s been good, particularly on the deep balls, and he’s extended plays for us. He plays aggressively and he learns as he plays.”
2. Graham’s growth
Senior receiver Aaron Graham got his first start of the season four weeks ago against Youngstown State. Graham, who’s been in and out of the lineup throughout his career as a result of nagging soft-tissue injuries, has stabilized UNI’s slot-receiver position since reemerging as a starter.
Graham has 12 catches for 155 yards this season, including including five for 51 on Saturday. Farley described how valuable the Oak Grove, Mo., native has been since becoming a starter.
“What I like about Aaron is his consistency of where he is in the route,” Farley said. “He’s the guy who triggers a lot of combinations in (our) routes. So his timing and his effect on the route is (as) critical to everyone around him as it is to himself. Aaron has brought a lot of stability to our throwing game as a whole.”
3. Building depth
While it didn’t score 40-plus points, UNI’s win against Missouri State was never in doubt after taking a 19-0 halftime lead.
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As a result of the dominating performance, the Panthers were able to give valuable snaps to redshirt freshman defensive linemen Khristian Boyd, Caden Houghtelling and Devin Rice.
“I thought that was very important in that particular game because (we’re) getting into a stretch of games (where) you need game experience,” Farley said. “They were in some critical downs. They were up there already watching (the film) today trying to make the corrections. The only way you learn is by playing. We’ll need them moving forward as we progress through the remaining games here.”