CEDAR FALLS — With its offense ineffective, Northern Iowa’s defense led the way in a 13-6 win over Idaho State on Saturday at the UNI-Dome.
“That was good. I don’t care, it was a win,” UNI Coach Mark Farley said. “Of course, we need to play better on offense. Thought the defense was tremendous.”
Trailing 6-3 to begin the fourth quarter, UNI’s offense mustered its first touchdown-scoring drive that would prove to be the game-winner when Will McElvain scrambled out of the pocket, reversed fields and found Isaiah Weston for a 17-yard score to take a 10-3 lead.
“That was big because (Will) made a play,” Farley said. “(Idaho State) rushed three and that’s what people are doing right now is rushing three and dropping eight (into coverage). With a scrambling quarterback, it’s hard to hold coverage.”
On their only touchdown-scoring drive, sophomore running back Tyler Hoosman — who ran for 55 yards on 10 carries, along with a 29-yard reception in his first action of the season — had a 22-yard run to spark the Panthers' sputtering run game.
“That was the key because (Tyler) was the one person that I actually called in my office after the last game that we played because I thought he was the one that I didn’t know enough about that we should have after the second game because he didn’t have any reps,” Farley said.
“He was the one that had tremendous practice for the last two weeks and had the production today.”
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Before it took its first lead early in the fourth quarter, UNI’s offense had only 139 yards on 43 plays. It finished with 234 yards while McElvain completed 15 of his 26 passes for 131 yards and the one touchdown.
“They definitely mixed things up,” McElvain said of Idaho State’s defense. “I wouldn’t say they caught us off guard, but they definitely were winning the beginning of the game with some of the things they were doing and how many different things they were able to do.”
Idaho State limited UNI’s offense to 59 yards on 28 first-half plays as it held a 6-3 advantage at halftime. However, despite the struggles of their offense and the Bengals starting three of their seven first-half drives in UNI territory, the Panthers defense allowed only 95 first-half yards.
“That was the best defense of the day — the first-half defense,” Farley said. “Because they were getting the ball inside the 50 and we (only) gave up two field goals.”
With less than five minutes remaining, UNI’s Bryce Flater grabbed the defense’s third interception of Bengals QB Gunnar Amos, giving the offense field position it needed to put together a seven-play drive that was capped by a 20-yard Matthew Cook field goal to extend the lead to 13-6.
“I think we have high expectations every game no matter if the offense is putting up 50 points or 10 points. It doesn’t matter,” said UNI defensive end Elerson Smith, who finished with a career-high three sacks. “We’re just playing to shut teams out and I think we’re good enough to do that.”