UNI Football Looks to Impress Kurt Warner in Homecoming Contest
The Northern Iowa Football squad is entering its third-straight week of conference play off of back-to-back victories. This time around, the mission is to defend the UNI-Dome on Homecoming weekend in front of UNI's most famous alumni -- NFL Hall of Famer and Super Bowl Champion, Kurt Warner.
As was announced late last week, the two-time league MVP and his wife, Brenda will be the VIPs of the homecoming parade, will be in attendance for the launch of the 'Our Tomorrow' campaign on campus Friday night, and are set to be at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new football team room in the Dome.
According to Head Coach Mark Farley, he'll also be speaking with the team during his visit.
The Panthers will be taking on the Illinois State Redbirds, who are 2-2 entering Saturday's contest. Here are three things to watch:
Battle of the FBS Quarterbacks
Virtually any time Theo Day's name is mentioned in Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC) circles, the 'Michigan State transfer' tag is included. The same happens when Redbird starting quarterback Zack Annexstad is brought up.
The former Minnesota Golden Gopher was named the starter as a freshman walk-on in 2018, but his career quickly took a downturn due to injuries. The news that Annexstad was transferring to Illinois State spread like wildfire around the conference in 2022, and for good reason.
In his freshman campaign as the starter in Minneapolis, Annexstad put up solid numbers and became the second FBS walk-on, true freshman quarterback to start a season opener, joining Baker Mayfield who started his first game at Texas Tech in 2013 after walking on. Before sustaining an injury, he played in eight games and completed 97 passes for 1,277 yards and nine touchdowns.
Through the first four games of this season for Illinois State, Annexstad has completed 75 passes for 837 yards and six touchdowns while also throwing five interceptions.
Despite not playing at Michigan State, Day has burst onto the FCS scene this season, completing 97 passes for 1,330 yards and nine touchdowns with just four interceptions. He ranks 10th nationally in and second in the MVFC yards passing.
Beware of 'The Dude'
Every team has a 'Dude.'
On behalf of Illinois State, it's Zeke Vandenburgh.
The 6'3, 235-pound linebacker from Freeport, Illinois has been wreaking havoc in opponents' backfields this season. Last week against Southern Illinois, he posted 14 tackles, 3.5 TFL, and one sack to be named the MVFC Defensive Player of the Week.
In total, he leads the Redbirds and the MVFC in tackles (44), TFL (10.5), and sacks (six).
UNI has a dude of their own on the defensive line this season, with Devin Rice posting three sacks in the last two games. In total, the Panthers posted nine of their ten sacks over their last three contests.
Who Runs the Ball for the Redbirds?
In game one against Wisconsin, returning running back for Illinois State Cole Mueller broke his leg. Following that injury, Wenkers Wright took over the lead RB spot, running the ball 31 times for 126 yards in three games.
The redshirt freshman missed last week's contest against Southern Illinois with a right shoulder injury, and four separate Redbirds carried the load on the ground for Illinois State, running the ball 19 times for 46 yards. They also caught 11 passes for 44 yards and a touchdown.
Reportedly, Wright will be back for the game this Saturday in Cedar Falls. Will the ISU staff still go running back by committee, or will Wright take the majority of the carries on the ground once again?
Here's our preview of the game for Cornstalks and Sports Talk, where I'm joined by Randy Reinhardt, Redbird Football beat writer for the Pantagraph in Bloomington, Illinois:
- The Redbirds rank eighth offensively in the MVFC with just 19.3 points per game. They rank ahead of Indiana State (11.3), Western Illinois (14.4), and South Dakota (15.5).
- Ill. St. is tied for second with South Dakota State in the MVFC in total interceptions with six. First is Youngstown State with seven.
- ISU's kicker, Jack Takerian has attempted just one field goal this season. While he is 9-9 on PATs, Takerian missed his lone FG attempt from 37 yards out.
- UNI is 14-4 all-time against the Redbirds in the Dome.
- Last Season, Illinois State upset the Panthers in Normal, 17-10 in overtime.
- UNI leads the MVFC in total offense with 409.2 yards, which also ranks No. 33 in the nation.