CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa football coach Mark Farley says the Missouri Valley Football Conference is driven by good quarterbacks, a lot of good quarterbacks.

Farley says the Panthers won’t face a better one than the one they will Saturday when UNI travels to Dykhouse Stadium to face seventh-ranked South Dakota State and the reigning MVFC offensive player of the year, Taryn Christion.

“A lot of what this league is is because of the strength of the quarterbacks,” Farley said. ‘We are going against this kid this week ... he is a tremendous one, he is lights out.”

Christion set a SDSU record last year throwing for 3,714 yards and tied a program record with 30 touchdown passes.

It doesn’t hurt that he has the top two pass catchers in the league, All-American tight end Dallas Goedert, who caught a school record 92 passes for 1,293 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2016, and three-time All-American wide receiver Jake Wieneke, who hauled in 78 balls for 1,316 yards and 16 scores last year.

Adding to their potential attack, with Goedert and Wieneke limited by injuries last week in a win over Southern Illinois, the Jacks turned to the running game and Brady Mengarelli, who rushed for 220 yards as part of a 368 yard day on the ground for SDSU.

“They have a really athletic quarterback,” defensive linemen Preston Woods said. “We have to do a great job as a unit keeping him contained and doing our jobs. That is all we can do, each guy doing his job, nothing out of the ordinary or special, just executing our jobs and we will be fine.”

UNI has to guard against the Jacks getting a quick start, too. SDSU has outscored its opponents, 56-7, in the first quarter this season, and have scored on nine of their 12 first-quarter possessions (eight touchdowns and a field goal) in its first five games. Last week, the Jacks scored on all five of their first-half possessions and led 35-0 at halftime over the Salukis.

“A couple of defensive stops early would be huge,” Woods added.

For as much as the Panthers have prepared to face the Jacks offensively and defensively, UNI has really concentrated on itself leading into the game.

“We just have to go in there and execute,” wide receiver Daurice Fountain said. “That is the main focus right now, just execute and getting back to the fundamentals.

“We know they are a talented team, but we have talent, too, so something is going to have to give.”

South Dakota State head coach John Stiegelmeier is expecting a better UNI team than what the Panthers’ record indicates.

Stiegelmeier told the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader earlier this week, “I love their football team. They’ve started a little slower than they wanted to, but they always start playing great football eventually, and I expect this will be the week.”

Again, for UNI, it believes a better executed game will help it come out with a better result than it has been getting, especially if the Panthers can protect the ball.

In victories over Cal Poly and Southern Illinois, UNI committed three turnovers and won the turnover battle. In the Panthers’ three losses they have committed 10 turnovers and are a minus-five in turnover ratio.

“Turnovers will create problems and keep people in games, so you can’t beat yourselves,” Farley said. “That is the lesson you take away. You can get away with it against lesser teams, but you can’t when you are in the stage of the game we are in with Top 20 teams all the time.”

UNI heads into this game in a very similar situation it was in two years ago. The Panthers were 2-4 with their playoff lives on the line, and UNI got a critical stop on a fourth-and-short inside its own 10 to preserve a 10-7 victory. UNI proceeded to win seven in a row, reaching the FCS quarterfinals.

And like Saturday’s matchup, that 2015 meeting came after the Panthers suffered a homecoming loss to Western Illinois.

“We’re going on the road, a very similar scenario that we went into two years ago,” tight end Elias Nissen said. “We just came off a homecoming lost to Western and went to South Dakota State and won that one in a very close battle.”

BACK TO KINNICK: UNI, who plays at Iowa next Sept. 15, announced Thursday that it and Iowa have scheduled another game for Sept. 5, 2020.

The Panthers and Hawkeyes have met 18 previous times, the last in 2014, with Iowa pulling out a 31-23 win.

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Sports Writer

Sports reporter for The Courier

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