CEDAR FALLS — The University of Northern Iowa football team found a formula for success seven weeks ago on a Saturday afternoon in Brookings, South Dakota.
A more balanced offense has produced 31 points a game, and a stingy, opportunistic defense has allowed just one opponent more than 400 yards of offense, including five games of 305 or fewer yards.
UNI has gone 6-1 over that stretch, including Saturday’s 46-7 FCS first-round playoff win over Monmouth.
Next up is a return trip to Brookings for a second-round matchup against a South Dakota State team UNI (8-4) defeated 38-18 seven weeks ago.
“They will be ready for us,” UNI head coach Mark Farley said. “They have had two weeks to get ready for us and we know that.”
Farley and the Panthers say both teams have evolved and gotten better, with that process needing to continue leading up to the rematch.
“I’m sure they have been watching the film of that game,” linebacker Jared Farley said. “But they have evolved and we have evolved. Both of us have made a lot of improvements.”
The winning formula that got the Panthers into the playoffs worked to perfection against an overmatched Monmouth squad.
Defensively, the seven points allowed were the fewest a Panther team has surrendered in a playoff game since a 29-7 win over McNeese State in 1992. UNI also picked off four passes and now has 20 on the season, with 13 coming in the last five games.
Opposing quarterbacks have thrown multiple interceptions against the Panthers seven times, and UNI has five straight games with at least two picks.
“That is one thing we really emphasize every day in practice is getting the ball for our offense and putting them in good spots,” Jared Farley said.
UNI’s offensive balance was also on full display against the Hawks as the Panthers rushed for a season-best 246 yards. Prior to that, the season-high had been 212 at SDSU. In addition, starting quarterback Eli Dunne came back after missing the season finale and threw for 260 yards and four touchdowns.
“The defense did a great job of getting turnovers ... Gave us the ball a bunch of times in the first half, and we were able to capitalize,” said Dunne, who on Sunday was named College Football Performance Awards FCS National Performer of the Week.
INJURY FRONT: UNI appeared to get through the Monmouth victory with nothing more than the normal bumps and bruises.
Safety A.J. Allen missed his second consecutive game although he warmed up, but tight end Elias Nissen, who was not expected to play, played several snaps. Offensive tackle Bryce Sweeney, who had missed the last two games, rotated with Jacob Appleman at right tackle.
Getting through unscathed in addition to getting a lot of playing time for reserves once the game was in hand will be important for the Panthers if they hope to continue to make a run in the playoffs, according to Mark Farley.
“We were fortunate to get some guys in, and some guys ... like Marcus (Weymiller) didn’t have to run in the second half,” Mark Farley said. “So hopefully, it gives us an opportunity, since they had the open date, we can be ready to go when we get there, too.
“When you get to December, the key is depth.”
CHART MOVERS: Dunne’s four touchdown passes Saturday give him 25 for the season, which is the fifth-best single-season total in UNI history. With one more touchdown pass, Dunne will tie Steven Beard for fourth.
The all-time single-season leader is Ryan Helming’s 31 that he threw in 1999.
Daurice Fountain’s 10-catch, 139-yard, two-touchdown game saw him move up in several career receiving categories.
Fountain now ranks fourth all-time in catches (147), sixth in receiving touchdowns (22) and ninth in yards (2,049). His 11 touchdown catches this season ranks fifth.