Time of Possession, Third Downs Kill UNI in Homecoming Loss
Despite two opportunities to take the lead in the final 5:26 of play, UNI dropped their fourth loss of the season, falling to the Illinois State Redbirds, 23-21 on Homecoming.
Third-down conversions and time of possession made it so they had little chance to snag their third win in a row and move to 3-3. You can't win if you don't have the football.
In total, the Redbirds held a 35:25 to 24:35 advantage in time of possession while running 79 to UNI's 58 plays and converted 13 of 20 third-downs and both of their fourth-down attempts.
Yet again, a mediocre, methodical offense had its way with the Panther defense. With little creativity, screenplay after screenplay, and a few chunk runs here and there, Illinois State traveled 79 yards on 13 plays and scored on a three-yard pass from quarterback Zack Annexstad to tight end Bryson Deming to give ISU the 7-0 lead.
That'd be the trend for the remainder of the contest.
With an early deficit to make up, Theo Day took just four plays before he launched a 51-yard bomb to sophomore receiver Sergio Morancy and tied the score at seven following a Matthew Cook PAT with 6:13 to go in the first quarter.
The Redbird offense continued its dink-and-dunk approach and moved the ball down to the UNI 16 on a 12-play, 59-yard drive that concluded with an Ian Wagner 33-yard field goal -- the first of his career at Illinois State.
An empty UNI possession later and the Redbirds took 6:40 off the clock over 13 plays and 68 yards before redshirt freshman Wenkers Wright punched in a three-yard run for his first touchdown of the year and extended the Illinois State lead to 17-7 with 8:12 remaining in the second.
This is what senior defensive tackle Khristian Boyd said of the continued third-down conversions by ISU:
We understand that in tight games like that we have to get off the field right away. We can't let teams convert on all those third downs like we did.
Coach Mark Farley added the following:
We have to give them credit. They had a nice little plan to get the ball out quickly. ... I'll be the first one to tell you it's the third down conversions that have hampered us all season. That's where we have to get off the field.
On the next drive by the UNI offense, Day connected with Sam Schnee for a 23-yard gain and Dom Williams busted off a 32-yard run prior to a two-yard lunging touchdown to make the score 17-14 with 4:35 left in the half.
After the kickoff, 14 more plays and 69 yards later, Wagner put up three additional points on a 25-yard kick to make it 20-14 heading into the second half of play.
Over the next 30 minutes of gameplay, it was more of the same, just with fewer points.
Another 12-play, 50-yard drive that took 5:19 off the clock and ended in yet another Wagner field goal from 41 yards out to make the score 23-14. That was the only score of the second half for the Redbirds.
This is what Farley said of his defense in the second half:
There's ways to fix (giving up all the third down conversions), but at the same time they only had three points in the second half. (We held them) to enough to win the game, and that's all you need to do. ... We gave up too many points in the first half. We have got to find a way
On the next UNI drive, Day was taken down on a strip sack by Josh Dinga. Dinga recovered the ball on the Illinois State 43, but lucky for UNI, the Redbirds when three-and-out and quickly gave the ball back to the Panthers.
Boyd added this:
After that fumble, we knew as a defense we needed to step up because the defense was doing their job, and we did that.
The purple and gold were able to bring it within two on their next possession, following a 23-yard pass from Day to Schnee, a third and 12 conversion on the ground by Day, and a 23-yard run by Vance McShane, Schnee took a jet sweep into the endzone from six yards out. That put the score at 23-21 with 12:50 to go in the final frame.
A few more third-down conversions and missed tackles later, and the Redbirds yet again made a massive dent in the clock, taking 7:24 off to drive 13 plays and 63 yards before Wagner missed a 29-yard kick.
Considering the significant amount of time the offense spent on the sideline, this is what Vance McShane said postgame:
We (the offense) got tight. A lot of us skill-players had to get on a bike so we wouldn't get tight.
That put the momentum in the hands of the Panthers. The game was more than within reach.
After the miss, Day completed two passes to Schnee -- one for 11 and one for ten yards -- and Vance McShane gashed the ISU defense for 12 yards before a fourth and eight incomplete pass ended what appeared to be their final chance of the game.
On a giant stroke of luck, Coach Farley held onto all three of his timeouts for the final Redbird possession, and Illinois State went three-and-out before giving the ball back to UNI with 1:10 to go.
Day found Williams on a 28-yard pass that moved the Panthers to their own 47 before leaving the pocket a few plays later for a nine-yard gain. A QB sneak on the next play gave the purple and gold the first down.
Day spiked the ball to stop the clock with 16 seconds remaining. The next play, a deep pass to Quan Hampton fell incomplete after a questionable no-call on what looked to be pass interference on Illinois State.
Day took a sack on the final play of the game to take UNI out of field goal range, and the offense was unable to collect itself and spike the ball before the clock ran out, ending the game.
Another opportunity squandered.
Vance McShane had this to say regarding the final two possessions:
I feel like we just froze up as an offense. We've got to capitalize (on those possessions).
UNI fell to 2-4 on the year while the Redbirds moved to 3-2.
Next Saturday, the Panthers will take on Utah Tech in the Dome at 4 PM.