After a 46-14 loss to top-ranked North Dakota State last Saturday, No. 14 Northern Iowa looks to get back on track at home against South Dakota (3-3, 2-0).
The Panthers are 8-2 all-time against the Division-I version of South Dakota, winning last year’s matchup in Vermillion, S.D., 42-28.
The Coyotes opened their season with three consecutive losses, including a 53-52 home defeat to Houston Baptist in week 3.
Here are three things to watch in Saturday’s game.
1. One-dimensional Coyotes
UNI’s success in its win over South Dakota last season was due in large part to limiting the Coyotes to 41 yards rushing on 41 attempts.
That inability to gain yards via the run led to quarterback Austin Simmons having to throw 46 times, leading to five sacks and one interception for the Panthers defense.
UNI’s ability to once again limit South Dakota’s running game and make its offense one-dimensional will be a big factor against Bob Nielson’s up-tempo, high-powered offense.
2. Play-action pass
Now halfway through the regular season, UNI has come up well short in its mission to create a formidable play-action passing game. While its running game has improved the past three games, averaging 123.3 yards per contest, it hasn’t become productive enough just yet to make defenses consistently bite on the run-fake.
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If the Panthers are able to consistently rush for around 150 yards, it should make their play-action pass viable enough to cash in.
South Dakota’s defense has given up nearly 170 rushing yards per game this season, so a healthy dose of the run could very well be on tap.
3. Defensive bounceback
After allowing a season-high 46 points and 347 rushing yards against NDSU, the Panthers will be tested by a completely different, but still powerful, offense this week.
South Dakota’s offense ranks first in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in passing, fourth in scoring and second in total yards per game. Simmons has done a good job spreading the ball around this season, so no particular South Dakota wide receiver requires extra attention.
Stopping the run, rushing the passer and simply executing the game plan should be enough for a defensive bounceback.
UNI vs. South Dakota
Kickoff time: 4 p.m. CT
TV: KCRG 9.2, NBC Sports Chicago
Watch online: ESPN+
Radio: KGYM-AM 1600
Listen online: TuneIn
Line: UNI -7
Prediction: UNI 28 South Dakota 17
UNI gets a season-high in rushing yards and McElvain makes a few big plays. The defense bounces back, but struggles early with the Coyotes’ up-tempo offense.