CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa will aim to keep hopes of a first-round FCS playoff bye alive Saturday in Springfield, Mo., against Missouri State (1-5, 1-2).
The Panthers (4-3, 2-1) won last season’s game 37-0 and have won the last 13 meetings against the Bears.
Missouri State’s 37-31 triple-overtime win over Western Illinois is its only of the season, but the Bears are coming off a solid performance in a 22-0 loss to top-ranked North Dakota State.
Here are three things to watch for in Saturday’s game.
1. Weston watch
Isaiah Weston leads the Missouri Valley Football Conference with 699 yards receiving and 25.9 yards per catch. The sophomore receiver is also coming off a career-high 189-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Panthers’ 42-27 win over South Dakota last week.
As word and game film spreads around the MVFC of Weston, it’s only a matter of time before opponents begin double-teaming him. Once that happens it will be important for UNI to be ready to exploit those coverages.
2. Time of possession
UNI has lost time of possession in six of its seven games this season and continues to struggle when it’s forced to engineer scoring drives of eight plays or more, only doing so three times this season.
As conference play continues there will undoubtedly be situations in which UNI can use the benefits of long, sustained drives to extend leads and, most importantly, salt away game clock.
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Against a lowly opponent like Missouri State, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Panthers and first-year offensive coordinator Ryan Mahaffey have a script of time-consuming plays in their game plan to do just that.
3. Keep the streak
Thirteen consecutive wins against any opponent in the MVFC is an impressive streak. So, with the Bears coming off a 22-0 loss to No. 1 North Dakota State in which they trailed 15-0 at the end of the third quarter, the possibility of a letdown exists.
UNI coach Mark Farley addressed this week how his team will prepare to avoid an upset.
“Practice the same way that you have been practicing all season,” Farley said. “Don’t make one game bigger than another.”
UNI at Missouri State
Time: 2 p.m. CT
Watch online: ESPN+
Radio: KGYM-FM 107.5
Listen online: TuneIn
Line: UNI -17.5
Prediction: UNI 41 Missouri State 14
UNI’s offense continues to improve both through the air and on the ground and quickly proves itself as too much for Missouri State to handle. The Bears put up 14, but half those points likely come on a fake punt, trick play, or something else exotic.