Panthers know Jackrabbits will be ready for rematch

(STATS) – For Northern Iowa, a mid-October trip to Brookings, South Dakota, served as the wake-up call that saved their season.

It also stirred something in South Dakota State that the Panthers may not be too eager to see again.

Two Missouri Valley teams that seem to be peaking at the right time will meet for the second time in seven weeks Saturday at Dykhouse Stadium with a spot in the FCS quarterfinals on the line.

Northern Iowa (8-4) opened the season 2-3 and was in danger of falling to 1-2 in the highly competitive MVFC with an Oct. 14 visit to Brookings looming. But after looking incompetent running the ball during that rocky start (2.4 yards per carry), Marcus Weymiller made his season debut and ran for 170 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-18 Panthers win in which they held the ball for more than 40 minutes.

“We had to win that game,” UNI coach Mark Farley said. “(This one) will be different. This one, somebody’s done when the day is over. I think that mindset’s different. I think we’ve matured since that football game. All that matters is what happens (this) week.”

Falling to 1-2 in conference play with that loss, South Dakota State (9-2) took that cue of desperation and ran with it. The Jackrabbits haven’t lost since, a five-game stretch littered with impressive wins – at Western Illinois and South Dakota along with a 33-21 victory over No. 2 seed North Dakota State.

That stretch earned the Jackrabbits the No. 5 seed and an opening-weekend bye, but after watching Northern Iowa have little trouble in a 46-7 first-round win over Monmouth, SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier isn’t convinced that having the holiday weekend to rest up was necessarily the best thing.

“They have the benefit of having played a game but not having been spent,” Stiegelmeier said. “In a sense, they may be a little bit ahead of us in terms of physical preparation.”

While the Panthers finally got their rushing game going in the first meeting, the Jackrabbits didn’t really get a chance to run. They were down 17-0 just over 13 minutes into the game and spent most of the 19:31 they had the ball trying to rally through the air. But 2016 MVFC offensive player of the year Taryn Christion completed just 14 of 35 passes.

UNI picked off one Christion pass and will be poised for more in this one. After notching four INTs against Monmouth, only Kennesaw State has more picks this season than the Panthers’ 20.

“That is one thing we really emphasize every day in practice is getting the ball for our offense and putting them in good spots,” said linebacker Jared Farley, Mark’s son.

As long as Northern Iowa QB Eli Dunne avoids turnovers, the Panthers have been in good shape. In the four losses, Dunne has been picked off nine times. In the seven wins? Fifteen TDs and just one INT.

This is one of three regular-season rematches in the second round of the FCS playoffs and one of four intraconference games. But while James Madison coach Mike Houston said this week that he hates the idea of having to face another Colonial Athletic Association team (Stony Brook) in his team’s first playoff game, Stiegelmeier doesn’t mind.

“I think it’s a little easier,” he said. “We’ve studied them, we’ve game-planned against them. We watched all the film before we played them, we watched all the film after we played them, we tweaked some things.”

One thing he won’t want to tweak is the impact tight end Dallas Goedert has been making. One of the favorites to be the first FCS player selected in the 2018 NFL draft, the senior had 120 yards receiving in the first meeting but only caught four passes – which was actually his second-highest total in the first six games. He’s had at least seven receptions in four of the past five games, topping 100 yards in each.

Despite the 20-point win for the Panthers in October, the Jackrabbits are 8 1/2-point favorites in this one.

“We know they are going to give it their best shot coming from last game,” UNI cornerback Malcolm Washington said. “It is going to be tough. We can’t let the outside noise get in from us winning the last time. That game is gone.”