CEDAR FALLS — Saturday’s game at the UNI-Dome between No. 9 Northern Iowa and Idaho State is the first game of a home-and-home series.
The Panthers (1-1) and Bengals (1-1) have only met twice before, with both games coming in the early 1990s. The most recent matchup, in 1992, was a 49-11 UNI win.
One of the more compelling storylines Saturday is UNI Coach Mark Farley hiring Bengals Coach Rob Phenicie in 2017 as a wide receivers coach, and five days later, Phenicie leaving UNI to return to Pocatello, Idaho, after being offered the head coaching job.
Idaho State finished its 2018 season 6-5 and is coming off a 31-0 loss at FBS No. 10 Utah.
Here are three things to watch for Saturday.
1. Idaho State can move the ball.
While this season’s numbers are hard to gauge, given the Bengals have played D-II Western Colorado — a 38-13 win — and FBS No. 10 Utah, a look back at their 2018 numbers show a high-scoring, balanced and efficient offense (35.3 points per game). Returnees Ty Flanagan and Michael Dean ran and received for over 800 yards, respectively, last season and will likely be at the center of Saturday’s game plan.
“Offensively, (Phenicie) really likes to throw the football,” Farley said. “I really like their running back. He really runs hard, down hill all the time. They run out of pistol (formation) all the time.
2. UNI’s pass rush will be key.
Idaho State’s three leading receivers last season all averaged over 15.8 yards per catch, indicating that their offensive-minded coach would rather gouge opposing defenses with chunk plays than chip away at it with short routes underneath.
Accomplishing this requires better-than-average pass protection.
Seth Thomas, Elerson Smith and UNI’s other defensive linemen can make the Bengals go off-script by routinely collapsing Bengals QB Matt Struck’s pocket.
3. Does UNI’s running game get going after the bye?
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Farley hasn’t wavered in his confidence that the run game will get going, saying he believes in the personnel they have to get the job done and explaining this week how the bye week helped them better organize their approach.
The Panthers averaged 2.0 yards per carry in their first two games.
“I think the first two weeks (offensive coordinator Ryan Mahaffey and run game coordinator Ryan Clanton) had an opportunity to figure each other out of what they can do and last week we kind of tried to take it and expand on it to extend the run game based off what it was the first two weeks,” Farley said. “It’s more schematics than it was personnel-wise.”
UNI vs. Idaho State
Time: 4 p.m.
TV: KCRG 9.2
Watch online: ESPN+
Radio: KGYM-AM 1600
Listen online: TuneIn
Prediction: UNI 41 Idaho State 17
UNI’s running game shows (some) improvement and QB Will McElvain looks good, again. The defense bends, but once again seldomly breaks.