CEDAR FALLS — Locked down.
Northern Iowa’s defensive coaches would like nothing more than to see senior cornerback Malcolm Washington lead the Panther defensive secondary to a lock down performance against South Dakota State’s high-powered passing game Saturday in a FCS second-round playoff game.
In a dream world, that would be the perfect dream.
In reality, nobody has completely shut down the Jacks’ trio of quarterback Taryn Christion, tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver Jake Wieneke. Goedert and Wieneke both seniors, have combined to catch 7,500 yards worth of passes in their careers.
Christion was the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2016 and very well could’ve been this year if not for the slightly more spectacular season South Dakota quarterback Chris Streveler produced.
But on Saturday, at 2 p.m., UNI’s coaches will ask Washington to help the Panther secondary put on a lockdown type performance.
“They are both good — Dallas and Jake,” Washington said. “We just got to prepare like we did against Iowa State with Allen Lazard and Hakeem Butler. You go out there and it is one play at a time and you don’t over think anything. You can’t second guess your decisions.”
The first time UNI and SDSU played this season, Goedert and Wieneke combined for eight catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-18 UNI win.
Digging deeper into those statistics, Wieneke had all four of his catches for 60 yards in the first half, and was shutout in the second. On the flip side, Goedert caught all four of his passes for 120 yards in the second half, getting lost on a broken coverage for a 57-yard gain for the Jacks’ biggest play of the day.
“They are going to make plays,” Washington said. “We just have prepare like we have and go out and do your best and give your defense an opportunity to give the ball back to the offense.”
Washington arrived at UNI a year ago as a transfer from Fresno State, and a lower body injury saw him miss parts of the season. But his body of work was solid — 26 tackles and four interceptions — good enough for him to earn second-team all-conference honors.
Washington was just an honorable mention this season despite posting better numbers across the board and playing a vital leadership role for a cornerback group that is all freshman on the two deep — Xavior Williams and Austin Evans at one corner, and Jamahl Scott serving as Washington’s back-up.
“Malcolm has been really valuable,” UNI head coach Mark Farley said.
Early in the season, with the Panthers trying to roll with a pair of freshman safeties, UNI was getting beat over the top often prompting the Panthers to move senior Elijah Campbell back to free safety and junior A.J. Allen from outside linebacker to strong safety.
While that helped with communication on the back-end of UNI’s defense, Washington’s play continued to get better and better.
“When we started taking away the explosive play in the passing game, which was happening early in the season, when we started taking that away consistently we started having more success,” Farley said. “So a lot of that has been Malcolm and what he has done on his third of the football field taking care of his man and his zone when we play zone.
“People have challenged him. What has been seen on film is they have went back and challenged him week after week and he has stood the challenge.”
Farley adds that a lot of the success Washington has had is through him evolving. Washington agrees.
“Preparation. Preparation is a big thing,” Washington said.
Washington’s prep work week in and week out as rubbed off on the secondary group that has been playing its best football over the second half of the season.
The Panthers’ 20 interceptions this season rank second in the FCS, and 13 of those picks have come in the last five games. UNI has seven games with multiple interceptions, and five straight games with multiple.
“We are playing like a family,” Washington said. “We always knew when we got it together we we’re going to play like that.”