The metaphorical monkey is off this UNI football squad's back after their win last week against Western Illinois.

The 52-17 victory put the purple and gold on the right trajectory, but their record still sits at 1-3 to start the season. An uphill battle remains as the thick of the Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC) schedule has commenced.

This is what Erik Sorensen, starting center for the Panthers said of the first win of the season, and what's next:

It feels great to get that first win, but then again we've got to start preparing for next week. We've got a great team coming into the Dome. Indiana State, they're a good team.

Here are three things to watch heading into Saturday's contest against the Sycamores:

Screw(s) 'em Up

The Indiana State offense has been less than stellar through three games this season, largely due to their inability to pass the football.

Starting quarterback Gavin Screws appears to have all the physical tools to be a capable passer in the MVFC. The red-shirt sophomore can definitely sling it, and he has the athleticism needed to succeed at this level of football. The numbers he has put up thus far aren't showing that, though.

So far in 2022, the Jacksonville, Florida native has completed just 33 of 66 passing attempts for 339 yards and a touchdown. Pair that with four interceptions, and the stats look ugly quickly.

Based on last week's matchup with No. 2 Montana, the Indiana State offense will look to get going in the run game early. In the first half against the Griz, redshirt sophomore running back Justin Dinka ran for nearly 100 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown run.

Montana adjusted in the second half though, and Dinka finished with just 87 total yards on the day.

If the Panthers can keep the trend of interceptions going against the Sycamore QB and Dinka is unable to get going on the ground, it'll be a long day in the Dome for Indiana State.

Return of the UNI Defense?

Last week against Western Illinois was the first time this season we've seen the Panther defense look like it should for all of four quarters.

There were glimpses against North Dakota in the first half and Sacramento State in the third quarter, but last Saturday was the first time we saw it come together for a full game.

In total, the Leathernecks put up just 102 yards rushing on 27 attempts and 195 yards through the air on 31 attempts. That, along with three interceptions (including two pick-sixes by Woo Governor) and four sacks on the day made UNI's defense look like it was back in full effect.

One question remains, though: Was Western Illinois a good enough opponent to measure the quality of the Panther defense?

The Leathernecks have yet to win a game this season under new head coach Myers Hendrickson and have won just four games over the previous three seasons.

Though Indiana State isn't exactly the cream of the crop in the MVFC either, this matchup provides another opportunity to give the Panther defense a boost of confidence as they proceed through their conference schedule.

Should UNI put up another solid showing defensively, the Panthers may exemplify that the ship has been righted on that side of the ball in Cedar Falls.

Don't Play With Your Food

Despite what their record shows, UNI is clearly one of the more talented teams across the MVFC, and therefore all of the FCS. That's also despite what they showed over the first 32 minutes against WIU.

After a 47-yard score on a check-down pass to freshman running back Jaylen Reed, the Leathernecks trailed 17-10 with 12:53 to go in the third quarter last Saturday. Against North Dakota, the Panthers held a minimal 10-7 lead at the half. In their matchup with the Hornets of Sacramento State, UNI trailed 24-7 after two quarters.

Now is the time to put a full game together on both sides of the ball for the purple and gold.

There's no need to let the Sycamores hang around and be within striking distance at any point in the second half. Score early and often offensively. The Panthers should put their MVFC rival away before they even have a glimmer of hope.

Here's a preview of the game from Cornstalks and Sports Talk with ESPN+ play-by-play announcer for Indiana State, Luke Martin:

Quick Facts

  • After the two interceptions last week, Governor is tied for fourth in the FCS with three picks on the year.
  • If Governor gets another pick-six this season, he'll have the record for most in a single season by a UNI defensive player with three.
  • The UNI offense set ten single-game highs for the 2022 season last week against WIU.
    • Number of rushes - 45
    • Rushing yards - 197
    • Touchdown rushes - 2
    • Pass completions - 24
    • Touchdown passes - 3
    • Total plays - 75
    • Total offense - 468 yards
    • Points - 52
    • Sacks - 4
    • First downs - 28
  • UNI's offense leads the conference in completion percentage (67.2%), passing offense (290.2 yards per game), and total offense with 431.2 yards per game
  • The Panthers lead the MVFC in fewest penalties with just four per game
  • Theo Day is No. 6 in the FCS with 1,150 passing yards this season
  • Indiana State has lost two games in a row -- 56-0 to Purdue and 49-14 to No. 2 Montana. They're coming off a bye-week.
  • Sycamore starting defensive back Rylan Cole missed the game against Montana but is expected to be back against UNI. He's second on the team in tackles and leads ISU in interceptions and pass breakups with two.
  • Gianini Belizaire leads Indiana State in sacks with 2.5.
  • Dante Hendrix is the leading receiver this season for Indiana State, having caught 8 passes for 126 yards. Last season, he was named to the Honorable Mention All-MVFC squad after finishing the season with 42 catches for 447 yards and three touchdowns over six games.
  • Indiana State is 1-16 in the Dome all time. Their last win in Cedar Falls came in 1988.

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