CEDAR FALLS — Eight quarters into its season, Northern Iowa football is batting .500. Only four of eight quarters, both offensively and defensively, have been productive and shown glimpses of what the Panthers are capable.
With its home opener kicking off at 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon against Hampton (1-1) at the UNI-Dome, the focus has been putting together a four-quarter performance. Keeping that in mind, here are three keys to a UNI victory against the Pirates.
1. Good Eli shows up
UNI quarterback Eli Dunne’s 2016 debut that featured a 418-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 61-7 win over Missouri State left many Panthers fans with the idea that their next big-time quarterback was now under center. For a number of reasons, Dunne’s 16 starts since his debut have led to inconsistent results.
Most recently a physically limited and largely ineffective Marcus Weymiller has hindered UNI’s offense, but Dunne needs to prove against an opponent such as Hampton that he’s capable of taking over and being the reason the Panthers win.
2. Manufacture an effective running game
On one hand, Dunne undoubtedly needs to play well this week. On the other hand, the Panthers have to start getting consistent yardage at some point from their run game.
Maybe it won’t be a requirement against Hampton — the Pirates have allowed 119.5 yards per game — but it’d certainly make life easier for Dunne and the defense if the run game could move the chains and chew clock.
Weymiller continues to be limited and head coach Mark Farley said this week that the senior running back isn’t ready for a 20-plus carry workload. In light of that and Trevor Allen’s 2.6 yards per carry average, it may be time to start getting creative — at least until Weymiller can assume a full workload.
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So, whether it’s counters, reverses, the wildcat, option plays, or giving an underclassman an opportunity, manufacturing an effective run game would make life much easier for the Panthers on Saturday.
3. Establish defensive personnel
It took five weeks a season ago before defensive coordinator Jeremiah Johnson and Farley settled on their best 11 starters. There’s no doubt that personnel shuffling through two losses has proven to have an effect on the ability of the defense to be at its best.
Farley said at his Monday press conference that personnel is what’s holding the defense back, but also made it clear that he knows the answers to those questions aren’t obvious just yet. With another week of practice and another game on film, the Panthers may not necessarily need their defensive personnel perfected to defeat Hampton, but establishing one or two more positions could go a long way toward being able to hold down the Pirates’ spread offense.