UNI Faces Off with USD as Playoff Hopes are Dwindling
It's been nearly two weeks since the last time we've seen Northern Iowa (5-5, 4-3) take to the gridiron. It's almost as if everyone has moved on to basketball season.
Not quite yet, Panther fans.
With a potential playoff berth in the balance, Coach Mark Farley will lead his team to Vermillion to take on the South Dakota Coyotes (3-7, 2-5), who have begun to look more like themselves over recent weeks.
Here are three things to watch this weekend.
Who are the Coyotes?
Despite their lowly 3-7 record, South Dakota might be one of the most confusing teams in the FCS. Like many others in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, USD is a team that could at least be competitive in a barrage of other conferences across the country, solely based on talent. The problem is that they just happen to be in the best league in the nation.
That, and their nonconference schedule this season was absolutely brutal. Not only did they play FBS Kansas State (who is now ranked No. 19 in the country) and lose 34-0, but the Coyotes also faced then-No. 2 Montana in Missoula in the second week of the season, losing 24-7.
After bouncing back with a 38-21 win over Cal Poly, USD faced No. 1 and No. 2 North Dakota State and South Dakota State in back-to-back games, losing both. Pair that with their 3-1 record at home including wins over then-No. 14 Southern Illinois and Missouri State, and it's tough to determine who and what the Coyotes really are.
Then add in the change at starting quarterback from Carson Camp to Aidan Bouman (a three-star Iowa State transfer), the firing of their offensive coordinator Ted Schlafke in mid-October, and the fact that the Coyotes more-or-less dominated UNI 34-21 last season in the Dome, and it's damn near impossible to gauge how much of a challenge South Dakota will be on Saturday.
Matthew Cook Might Finally Get the Record
Entering Saturday's game, Cedar Falls native Matthew Cook is tied for the MVFC and UNI career record for most field goals made with 64. He's currently tied with Billy Halgren, who held the kicking duties at UNI from 2006 to 2010.
If he boots one through in Vermillion, he'll be the sole holder of the record.
Over the last four seasons, Cook has made 64 of 80 field goal attempts making him a career 80% kicker. Though this season has come with a few struggles due to several changes at the long snapper and holder positions, Cook has been considered nearly automatic every time he sets up for a field goal attempt.
He's currently No. 2 among active kickers in the FCS in most career field goals, trailing just Sklyer Davis of Elon who has 67.
During the Panthers' matchup with SDSU, Cook became the all-time consecutive PAT leader with 117 made in a row.
Can the Panthers get to the Quarterback?
Including the bye-week, UNI hasn't registered a sack in three weeks. They didn't get to Nic Baker at Southern Illinois, and they didn't sack Mark Gronowski in the Dome two weeks ago. Over their last five games, the defense has only registered seven sacks -- two against Utah Tech and five against Missouri State.
Now is the time to change that.
South Dakota's offensive line is one of the worst in the country by the numbers. Out of 121 teams in the FCS that have allowed a sack, the Coyotes rank 117th, having allowed 34 so far this season and 3.4 per game. That's also second-to-last in the MVFC, just ahead of MSU, who has allowed 42 on the season.
So far in 2022, the Panthers have only registered 17 sacks. Last season they finished with 36.
On top of the fact that Bouman has played well in the five games he's seen action, it's important to apply pressure on young quarterbacks to throw them off balance. An off-balance QB is more likely to turn the ball over. More turnovers by the defense and you're more likely to win football games.
Without Caden Houghtelling and possibly Khristian Boyd, the duty of getting to Bouman will fall in the hands of Cannon Butler, Devin Rice, Jack Kriebs, and Cordarrius Bailey on the defensive line. Those four along with linebacker Spencer Cuvelier have combined for 12 of the team's sacks so far this season.