116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS - After a 13-6 loss to Missouri State last Saturday, No. 17 Northern Iowa (2-3) is on the road at winless Western Illinois (0-4) Saturday.
Picked ninth in the Missouri Valley Football Conference's preseason poll, the Leathernecks began their spring season with a 30-24 loss to Missouri State, and have since lost to No. 8 South Dakota State, No. 3 North Dakota and Illinois State.
WIU is averaging 276 yards passing per game and only 54.3 rushing while allowing opponents to score an average of 34.75 points.
With that in mind, here are three keys for UNI against Western Illinois.
1. Pressure the quarterback
Western Illinois' run game has been awful, so the only way the Leathernecks have moved the ball this season is through the air.
Pressuring WIU quarterback Connor Sampson - who's been sacked nine times this season - feels like the key ingredient to ensure WIU remains winless. Defensive line coach Bryce Paup could secure this win for UNI almost all by himself with the rotations and calls he makes for the Panthers' front four.
2. Free Fomby
With starting quarterback Will McElvain set to miss his second straight game this week due to COVID-19 protocols, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson should hold nothing back with his game plan against WIU so as clear of an evaluation as possible can be had of Justin Fomby.
Through 19 career starts, McElvain has a 52-percent completion rate and, in his four starts this season, he continued to scramble out of the pocket when he should have stepped up in it instead.
UNI head coach Mark Farley mentioning Fomby's 62-percent completion rate and pocket presence multiple times after last week's loss to Missouri State sure felt like an indication that McElvain's status as the starter might not be as secure as most would think.
3. Coach for the fall
With the playoffs out of the question after last week's loss, UNI needs to acknowledge its new reality and use the rest of the spring season to evaluate as many players as possible before returning to a traditional fall season in September.
Of course, the goal should continue to be to win games, but getting snaps for young players that otherwise wouldn't could make the difference between making the playoffs or not this fall when injuries - and potentially COVID-19 - rear their ugly heads again.
UNI at Western Illinois
Where: Hanson Field, Macomb, Ill.
Kickoff: 11:05 a.m. (CT)
Line: UNI -7
Live stream: ESPN+