CEDAR FALLS -- The defense was stubborn. The offense was explosive.
That formula added up to victory Saturday as No. 11 Northern Iowa rolled to a 34-14 victory over Southern Utah in its home opener at the UNI-Dome.
Will McElvain threw three first-half touchdown passes, and the Panther defense held the Thunderbirds (0-2) to 227 total yards to help UNI head coach Mark Farley win his 150th career game.
"Very pleased," Farley said of the victory. "What I was most concerned about is how would we come out off that Iowa State game? We were a little lethargic, but it was a good first half, good enough that we could take it to them in the second half.
"We got a little sloppy at the end, but very pleased with the entire football team. We put two good weeks in here and we can build off this."
It was a slow start for the Panthers (1-1), but once they got it rolling, there was little the Thunderbirds could do to stop it.
After a pair of fruitless possessions, McElvain and wide receiver Deion McShane brought the crowd of 9,241 to its feet when McShane found room deep down the seam late in the first quarter.
McElvain hit McShane in stride, and he twas immediately tackled. However, McShane rolled over the defender, landed on his feet and scampered the rest of the way into the end zone to complete a 56-yard scoring play.
"It was wild," McElvain said. "I thought after I threw it he was going to be tackled right away. Then I heard the crowd and I had to watch it on the board to see what happened."
Isaiah Weston added a 39-yard touchdown catch and Jaylin James a 10-yarder in addition to a 44-yard Matthew Cook field goal as UNI led 24-0 at halftime.
"I saw some very athletic plays by Deion and Isaiah," Farley added. "Deion's, that was pretty cool. He is out there having fun and when you are having fun you tend to make instinctive plays and he's having fun."
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McElvain passed for 234 of his 262 yards in the first half, while McShane finished with 110 yards receiving and Weston 105.
UNI went more to the ground in the second half with Trevor Allen producing a couple of explosive runs and finishing with 77 yards on 17 carries.
"I think we got off to a slow start the first couple of drives, but we started to make things happen and that starts with me just going where I'm supposed to go with the ball," McElvain said. "Take the little completions and starting drives off with a positive play."
Meanwhile, the defense produced another quality game.
UNI scored on its first two drives of the third quarter to push its lead to 34-0. At that time, the Thunderbirds had just 36 yards on 44 plays.
"They are playing good together," Farley said. "There is only one drive we kind of got out of sync on and had two personal fouls that kept that drive alive."
Southern Utah had a pair of 70-plus yard drives in the second half, but for the most part UNI's defense held the Thunderbirds in check. The Panthers recorded 10 tackles for loss.
Bryce Flater led the team with 13 tackles.
"We came out strong at the start, got some three-and-outs and then got some momentum with us," defensive end Seth Thomas said. "Toward the end when they got the two touchdowns on us, we had some mishaps on some plays. We had some errors, but with film we will get that corrected and get even stronger."
UNI now heads into its off week before hosting another Big Sky opponent on Sept. 21, Idaho State.
"Perfect time for an open date for us with the type of football team we have and staff ... in order to learn and make corrections," said Farley.