The Panthers end the regular season with an important away game
Sam Schnee (23) of Northern Iowa runs for a touchdown during a game against Utah Tech at the UNI Dome in Cedar Falls on Saturday, October 15, 2022. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
CEDAR FALLS — Any chance for Northern Iowa to secure a berth in the FCS playoffs comes down to a win in South Dakota on Saturday.
The Coyotes ranked sixth in the Missouri Valley Football Conference preseason poll and are 3-7 overall and 2-5 in the conference.
South Dakota’s pedestrian offense is led by a two-man backfield with sophomore Travis Theis and redshirt freshman Shomari Lawrence. The duo have combined for 126 yards per game this season. At quarterback, Iowa State transfer Aidan Bouman has taken the starting job since he led an upset 27-24 win over No. 14 Southern Illinois in Week 8.
The Coyotes suffered a 28-19 loss in North Dakota but have split their last four games, including a home win over Missouri State in Week 10.
Here are three keys to the Panthers (5-5, 4-3) versus South Dakota.
1. One-dimensional dominance
UNI senior defender Korby Sander told The Gazette this week that slowing the Coyotes’ running game was a priority. So executing that plan and forcing the inexperienced Bouman to make game-winning plays seems like a reasonable blueprint.
As good as the recipe sounds, the Panthers’ defense must prove they can stop Bouman from pulling off an upset like he did against the Salukis four weeks ago.
2. Confuse the newbie
If UNI Bouman is to challenge them to beat them, Panthers coach Mark Farley will need to draw on his team’s experience. Plan creative flashes this season’s redshirt newcomer hasn’t seen before.
The Panthers’ defense has fallen short of expectations this season, but they’re perfectly capable of staging well-stealed and complicated flashes. And given the situation UNI is in at large in a bid for the FCS playoffs, it’s hard to think of any reason why such exotic flashes shouldn’t be on the menu on Saturday.
3. Let it rip
As good as the Panthers’ offense has been this season, and as much well-deserved praise as play-caller offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder has received, there’s no reason to hold anything back at this point.
UNI not only needs a win against South Dakota, but could also be able to back its case for a playoff bid at large with a dominant, decisive win.
While in most cases it may go against Farley’s and Reeder’s instincts to remain aggressive by a margin late in the third or fourth quarter, the chance to win by more than two points could help in the eyes of the playoff committee. Reason enough to do without unwritten rules of sportiness and collect as many points as possible.
UNI in South Dakota
kick off time: 1pm (CT)
Live broadcast: ESPN+
forecast: UNI 35, South Dakota 21