116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS - After a 24-20 loss to then-No. 5 South Dakota State in its spring season-opener last Friday night at the UNI-Dome, the Northern Iowa football team is on the road Saturday against Youngstown State (0-1).
The Panthers (0-1) travel to Ohio with a long list of players listed as questionable on their injury report, including running back Tyler Hoosman, wide receivers Isaiah Weston and Quan Hampton, center Mason Neisen and linebacker Bryce Flater.
With that in mind, here are three keys to a UNI win against the Penguins:
1. Set up the run with the pass
Youngstown State allowed 243 yards rushing to No. 1 North Dakota State in its 25-7 loss last Sunday. While that seems like it would be good news for the Panthers' struggling running game, the Bison's ground game has been incredibly productive over the past half-decade, so assuming the Penguins won't be able to put up a better effort against UNI seems shortsighted, to say the least.
Once UNI finally began to throw on first down against South Dakota State last week, quarterback Will McElvain completed five of his six first-down attempts to begin drives. Considering Dom Williams' struggles against SDSU and the unknown injury status of Hoosman, the confidence should exist to allow McElvain - the presason All-Missouri Valley Football Conference QB - to throw the Panthers into down and distances that will be much more manageable than they were against the Jackrabbits.
2. Confuse the inexperienced Penguins offense
UNI's defense picked up where it left off Friday night from its 2019 defense, switching between three and four down lineman fronts.
With Youngstown State having a completely new coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Troy Rothenbuhler, the Panthers should make use of their schematic versatility to disguise and confuse the Penguins offense. Especially considering it's only an eight-game regular season, there shouldn't be any holding back of schemes, plays or disguises for later in the year.
3. Open the playbook
With Hoosman, Weston and Hampton all listed as questionable, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson should dust off the lesser-used pages of the playbook and let scheme make up for personnel losses.
Jet sweeps, screens, creative read-options and perhaps some trick plays like a flea-flicker shouldn't be out of the question if the Panthers are without any of the three aforementioned playmakers.
UNI at Youngstown State
Kickoff time: 11 a.m. (CT)
Line: UNI -7.5
Live stream: ESPN+
Listen online: UNI Panthers Radio Network