Starting the season 0-2 was not in anybody's plan around the Northern Iowa Football program. After losses to Air Force and a Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC) rival in North Dakota, the Panthers have their back against the wall playing against the Big Sky Conference champion and No. 8 team in the country, the Sacramento State Hornets.

Hope remains, though.

Last season, in Theo Day's inaugaral snaps at quarterback for UNI, the purple and gold pulled away for a decisive victory on Sac. State's homefield, winning 34-16. Day passed the ball just 11 times, but completed six passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. The Panthers also outran the Hornets, putting up 219 yards to the home team's 106.

UNI will look to replicate that performance in Cedar Falls this weekend.

Here are three things to watch.

Defense Wins Championships -- and Games for the Panthers

The Panther football program, especially under Coach Mark Farley, is known for its defense. Year after year the ever loyal have looked on and said to themselves 'Man, if the offense was just average. They have the talent!'

UNI fans got their wish. But at what cost?

After giving up the most rushing yards in the country in week one to the triple option of the Falcons (582), the Panther defense was forced to readjust to a more typical offense when facing off with the Fight Hawks of UND. Coach Farley believes that to be the issue of why they haven't looked like themselves so far:

I go back to the Air Force game and that one caused more damage than you think it did because of the style of offense we played against. ... Any time you play an option team like that, the week after is always difficult. ... It caused a ripple effect, but we did progress.

Farley added that they need to get back to the basics:

The biggest thing is the detail of technique and fundamentals. That's where we blew up. ... I think if the personnel cleans up their technique, they'll have the success they expect to have.

We discussed the defensive issues and the red zone problems offensively on this Wednesday's episode of Cornstalks and Sports Talk.

The Running Game

Establishing the run is pivotal in what Sacramento State wants to do.

Last season, in all three games the Hornets lost, their opponent ran the ball for at least 100 more yards than they did. In 8 of their 9 wins, they had at least 70 more rushing yards than their opponent.

As stated above, the Panthers were one of the three teams that were able to handle the rushing attack of Sac. State. The other two were South Dakota State in the playoffs (205 to 105) and Cal (246 to 59) in a regular season contest.

In the Hornets 56-33 win over Utah Tech two weeks ago, they put up the most rushing yards the program had seen in over 20 years, 378. Sophomore running back Cameron Skattebo ran the ball 10 times, accounting for 153 of those yards. He also ran and caught a pass for a score.

Last week, the Panthers ran the ball for a total of 115 yards, 103 of which came from Dom Williams. The Kansas transfer scampered for two 40+ yard touchdown runs.

Dual Quarterback Attack

The Hornets' offense is unlike any other that the Panthers will see all season -- maybe unlike any other in the country.

Chances are, you've seen two quarterbacks rotate series at different points in a game. For example, if UNI were to do that, it'd be Day one possession and Matt Morrissey the next.

Sac. State doesn't do that. They put in one of their two quarterbacks to start a drive, and then insert the other guy whenever necessary for a play call or to throw off a defense. Their two QBs bring two very different things to the table, and they use that to their advantage.

Over the 12 games each of them played in last season, Jake Dunniway completed 182 passes for 2,576 yards and 12 touchdowns. Asher O'Hara completed 88 passes for 899 yards and seven touchdowns. On the ground, Dunniway ran the ball 30 times for 51 yards. O'Hara led the team in rushing with 662 rushing on 164 attempts. He also scored nine TDs.

And it looks to be similar this year.

In their last game, Dunniway completed 17 of 25 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns and ran the ball zero times. O'Hara on the other hand, completed five of seven passes for 56 yards and two scores. On the ground, he ran the ball 12 times for 101 yards and a TD.

Quick Facts:

  • In their win against Utah Tech, the Hornets allowed 506 yards passing and three passing touchdowns to just 73 yards rushing and one score on the ground.
  • Sac State is coming off a bye week.
  • Last season, Sacramento State went 8-0 in the remainder of their regular season games after their week three loss to Cal.
  • The Hornets are 1-4 in their last five games vs current MVFC opponents:
    • 2021: L to SDSU 24-19 (Playoffs)
    • 2021: L to UNI 34-16
    • 2018: L to UND 41-15
    • 2017: W over UND 34-27
    • 2016: L to UND 40-7
  • Under head coach Troy Taylor, the Hornets have played in a dome just three times.
    • 2021: Idaho State 23-21.
    • 2019: NAU - 38-34, Idaho - 31-7
  • Matthew Cook's next field goal moves him to No. 4 all-time at UNI in FGs made
  • UNI has the fewest penalty yards in the MVFC (52) and fifth fewest in the country
  • Sam Schnee and Deion McShane are two of four players in the MVFC to put together 100-yards receiving in a game
  • Theo Day is the lone quarterback in the MVFC to pass for more than 300 yards in a game this season

For a more in-depth preview, you can watch this conversation with Cameron Salerno of the Sacramento Bee, or listen to it on this weekend's episode of Cornstalks and Sports Talk as a podcast or on from 9 to 10 on Saturday morning.

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