Northern Iowa faces South Dakota with heavy playoff implications at stake

Ethan Petrik Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

CEDAR FALLS — The FCS playoffs aren’t starting for another week, but Northern Iowa’s playoffs began when the Panthers hosted Utah Tech on Oct. 15.

Ever since UNI lost to Illinois State, the Panthers knew they had to win week in and week out to get through to the FCS playoffs.

That attitude hasn’t changed, according to head coach Mark Farley.

“We got into this mode where you have to win a month ago,” Farley said. “So that was the temper we got into. More importantly, after saying goodbye this week, I feel very different today than I did last Monday.”

After the Panthers’ loss to South Dakota State last week, their playoff hopes were slightly dashed. Farley even noted in his post-match press conference that an upset by No. 1 Jackrabbits “would have done a lot” to put UNI in the playoffs.

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However, the Panthers remain in playoff discussion, despite slipping to 5-5 with the 31-28 loss to SDSU. Thanks to one of the toughest game schedules in the country, the Panthers rank 10th on the basic rating system, a key metric for the FCS playoff selection committee.

However, as Farley noted, the Panthers must beat South Dakota at Vermillion on Saturday to have any chance of making the playoffs next Sunday.

At 3-7, the Coyotes don’t seem to have the makings of a formidable opponent, but Farley knows he can expect a tough fight.

“Coach (Nielsen) always does a great job out there,” Farley said. “He always has a good plan. He throws the football around. They are aggressive on defense. Offensively they do a lot of things that cause us problems.”

On offense, Iowa State transfer Aidan Bouman is expected to get the under-center start. He took over the starting job from third-year starter Carson Camp after leading the Coyotes to an upset win over the then-No. 14 Southern Illinois.

In three starts, Bouman has passed for 760 yards and seven touchdowns without an interception. The Coyotes are 2-2 in four games with Bouman under middle.

At running back, Travis Theis is the Coyotes’ feature ball carrier with 161 attempts for 760 yards and five touchdowns. According to Farley, he has an idea of ​​how the Coyotes will attempt to beat the Panthers’ defense.

“He’s done the same thing over the years,” Farley said. “He’s an open set guy. Like I said, a lot of his calls aren’t offenses. They do.”

Farley took a similar approach when discussing coyote defenses.

“Kind of way of getting the 3-4 four-man front thing to get a guy off the edge to cause some problems that way,” Farley said.

A strength of sorts for the Coyotes, they possess the fifth-best goal defense and seventh-best total defense in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

Led by MVFC’s top two tacklers, juniors Stephen Hills and Brock Mogensen, the Coyotes allow 5.60 yards per play on opposing tackles.

The Panthers, the top offensive line in MVFC, have an opportunity to create explosive plays as the Coyotes rank in the bottom half of FCS in both sacks and tackles for loss.

As low as the Coyotes may appear, they defeated a 16th place UNI in the UNI Dome last season and Farley often emphasizes the Valley’s tendency to be an “every Saturday league”.

No one can deny the need for UNI to escape Vermillion with a win. His playoff lives depend on it.