AMES — In tandem with a stout defense, Northern Iowa QB Will McElvain nearly produced enough plays to help pull off an upset of No. 21 Iowa State on Saturday.
Making his first career start, McElvain displayed the improvisational, play-making skills he exhibited at Des Moines Lincoln and in practices as a Panther before UNI ultimately came up short, 29-26 in triple-overtime, after a 1-yard run by Iowa State’s Sheldon Croney.
“(McElvain) is going to be a good football player,” UNI coach Mark Farley said. “He’s always been (poised). He’s always prepared. It’s what he’s done over the course of time and not just something that happened today, so I give him great credit for that because of how he prepared all summer long and throughout the season and the extra time he puts in to do what he did today (but) we still need him to improve.”
McElvain did nothing to lose the game for UNI (0-1) in the first 30 minutes as the Panthers trailed 3-0 at halftime. On his second drive he evaded an ISU (1-0) pass rusher and connected with Trevor Allen while on the run for a 19-yard completion, effectively ushering in a new era of UNI offense on the play.
“Will surprised everybody that didn’t know Will,” Allen said. “We knew what he was capable of and he came in here and showed everyone that didn’t know.”
McElvain said that he felt he settled in after halftime, but quickly mentioned how the offense he leads needed to score more points. He finished 25-of-42 passing for 228 yards and one touchdown and while the Panthers scored 13 points in the third quarter. Seven were from a 53-yard fumble return touchdown by Xavior Williams and the other six came from freshman kicker Matthew Cook — who finished the game 4 for 4 — after seven- and 15-play drives stalled.
“...(There) was a lot of times I tried to make things happen too much, in a sense, where I could have just probably got it to my hot (read) but I think that just comes with experience and just being anxious about your first start.”
As impressive play-extending completions piled up for McElvain and the UNI offense, he produced his most jaw-dropping moment in the second overtime. On third-and-goal at the Iowa State 7, McElvain spun to his blindside to avoid pressure and extend the play, then reversed field back to the play’s strong side and found Allen alone near the back pylon for a touchdown that kept the Panthers’ hopes alive.
Will McElvain is a magician!
Northern Iowa refuses to go away against Iowa State as they look to stun the Cyclones. pic.twitter.com/ab2hVZCqZD
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) August 31, 2019
“A lot of time in practice we work on scramble drills just to tailor (the offense) towards his game,” Allen said. “That showed today.”
The play silenced a sellout Jack Trice Stadium crowd and quickly took hold of Twitter while evoking college football fans’ memories of Johnny Manziel’s unmatched play-making during his Texas A&M career.
Asked if he models his game after anyone, McElvain mentioned the former Aggies QB.
“I think I watch a lot of (quarterbacks) and pick up some things. I guess people want to say Johnny Manziel (and) things like that but I don’t really try to model my game after anybody,” McElvain said. “It’s the way I’ve played since I was young.”
Northern Iowa hosts Southern Utah next Saturday at 4 p.m.