CEDAR FALLS — Saturday’s matchup at the UNI-Dome between Northern Iowa (0-1) and Southern Utah (0-1) is a home-and-home series return game.
Game 1 in 2017 was a disappointing, 24-21 loss for the Panthers in Cedar City, Utah. The Thunderbirds hit a game-winning 26-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter.
“I see a good football team (on film) and all I remember is they beat us out there,” UNI Coach Mark Farley said. “So it doesn’t matter what I see on film. I know what I saw on that field that day when (we) played them at their place.”
Southern Utah finished its 2018 season 1-10 and is coming off a 56-23 Week 1 loss at UNLV.
Here are three things to watch ahead of UNI’s home opener.
1. Multiple Southern Utah quarterbacks could play.
In its loss to UNLV last week, the Thunderbirds started sophomore Chris Helbig while rotating in redshirt freshman Tyler Skidmore.
Helbig was the incumbent starter headed into 2019 and had 10 combined touchdowns (five passing and five rushing) before losing his season to injury after four games. Playing from behind, Southern Utah attempted 42 passes against the Runnin’ Rebels in Week 1 against 38 rushing attempts.
Based on last season’s stats, it appears the Panthers will face a balanced offense on Saturday.
“We do have to fit (our) defense to what we did against Southern Utah (in 2017). (They’re) much different than what we just played,” Farley said. “So how we fit what we do against them is what we’re working on.”
2. Southern Utah slot-receiver Lance Lawson is a key matchup.
UNI defensive back Xavior Williams admitted earlier this week he had more film study to on Lawson. The Panthers struggled at times to cover Iowa State’s slot receivers last Saturday, namely DeShaunte Jones.
Jones didn’t exclusively line up in the slot, but the Cyclones receiver racked up 14 catches for 126 yards.
3. UNI QB Will McElvain’s second start (without All-Missouri Valley Conference tight end Briley Moore).
With the self-admitted anxiety of his first start behind him, McElvain will have to produce without the security blanket that is Moore.
Farley wouldn’t reveal a timeline for Moore’s return earlier this week, but said the tight end could be out for an extended period. The Panthers utilized a lot of short, high-percentage throws in McElvain’s debut so it’ll be interesting to watch how much more first-year offensive coordinator Ryan Mahaffey opens up the offense against a much less challenging opponent.
UNI vs. Southern Utah
Time: 4 p.m.
TV: KCRG 9.2
Watch online: ESPN3
Radio: KGYM-AM 1600
Listen online: TuneIn
Prediction: UNI 37, Southern Utah 13
The Panthers shouldn’t have trouble with the Thunderbirds after taking No. 25 Iowa State to triple-overtime in Week 1.