CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa’s road win at then-No. 7 Illinois State last Saturday kept its chances of a top-8 seed and a first-round bye in the 24-team FCS Playoffs alive.
No. 5 UNI (6-3, 4-1) won last season’s game against Indiana State 33-0, and barring disastrous unforeseen circumstances, should cruise to a win once again Saturday at the UNI-Dome.
The Sycamores are coming off a 23-14 loss vs. Southern Illinois and have lost their last three games.
Here are three things to watch for in Saturday’s game.
1. Do your job
Without starting quarterback Ryan Boyle (knee) and knowing it’s playing nothing but spoiler at this point, the Sycamores are a potentially dangerous opponent with nothing to lose.
UNI, on the other hand, cannot afford a slip-up as a loss to Indiana State would undoubtedly eliminate its chances of a first-round playoff bye.
Simply put, being fundamentally sound and executing assignments may be more important this week than any other so far this season.
2. McElvain magic
With leading rusher Tyler Hoosman (ankle) ruled out by coach Mark Farley for Saturday, the Panthers will likely need redshirt freshman QB Will McElvain to make plays with his feet to supplement the running game.
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McElvain has struggled to gain yardage via the read-option this season, but has proven himself as a capable scrambler, especially when defenses do not employ a spy.
If the Sycamores decide against a spy, it would make sense for offensive coordinator Ryan Mahaffey to call a handful of QB draws out of four- and five-wide sets.
3. Move the chains
Along with what McElvain will likely need to bring to the run game, the Panthers will look toward true freshman running back Nick McCabe to provide production for the second consecutive week.
After Trevor Allen (concussion) and Hoosman left last week’s game, the Caledonia, Minn., native ran for 44 yards on 15 carries, which was good enough to move the chains and help UNI salt away the clock in its top-10 road win over the Redbirds last Saturday.
While he doesn’t have to be spectacular, McCabe will be counted on to get tough yards and first downs.
UNI vs. Indiana State
Time: 4 p.m.
Watch online: ESPN+
Radio: KGYM-AM 1600
Listen online: TuneIn
Line: UNI -21
Prediction: UNI 34 Indiana State 10
The defense continues to prove why it’s a top-10 unit and McElvain makes a few more trademark plays in an easy warmup before next Saturday’s top-10 road game against South Dakota State.