116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS - After a 17-16 loss at then-No. 10 Southern Illinois last Saturday, No. 10 Northern Iowa (2-2) is back at the UNI-Dome this Saturday, hosting Missouri State (2-1).
Picked ninth in the Missouri Valley Football Conference's preseason poll, the Bears began their spring season with a 30-24 win over Western Illinois, then lost 25-0 at home against North Dakota State before going on the road to South Dakota last week and earning a 24-20 upset win over the 24th-ranked Coyotes.
Here's three keys for UNI against Missouri State.
1. Make Missouri State one-dimensional
Looking at the Bears' season stats, the blueprint for a win doesn't appear complicated.
Missouri State's two wins have come with 150-plus yard rushing performances, while its loss to NDSU netted only 63. The Bears offense is far from a juggernaut, but becomes viable enough when its run game is functioning to make the matchup against UNI competitive.
So, whether it's stacking the box, run blitzing or something else, it seems UNI's defense should be able to position itself for a win if it can stop the Bears running game like the Bison did two weeks ago and make them one-dimensional.
2. Get exotic
After uncharacteristic missed field goals from 24 and 30 yards in last week's loss to Southern Illinois, a great way to make sure Matthew Cook's mind has moved past those misses is to ask him to do something out of the ordinary.
Given how often UNI's offense has failed to get touchdowns this season and settled for field goals there's no reason why a fake field goal shouldn't be a viable option against Missouri State. Converting a fake field goal for a first down or touchdown will make moving on from the missed kicks that much easier for Cook while also giving the Panthers' struggling offense a morale boost.
3. Play to your potential
There are a lot of legitimate reasons for the struggles UNI's offense has encountered this season. Considering those obstacles and the fact that just one more loss likely means no playoffs, it's become even more important for those who are on the field to play to their potential. With that in mind, it's fair to say through four games quarterback Will McElvain hasn't played to his.
After a record-breaking freshman campaign, McElvain's development appears to be stalled at the halfway point of this season. His completion percentage is a paltry 50.8 and his pocket presence, or lack thereof, is a large part of those struggles with efficiency. The sophomore QB is still scrambling out of the pocket too often when he should instead step up in it, and with UNI playing for its playoff life the rest of the season signs of progression from McElvain can't wait much longer.
UNI vs. Illinois State
Kickoff time: 4 p.m. (CT)
Line: UNI -14.5
Live stream: ESPN+