CEDAR FALLS — If there was an aspect that had been vacant from Northern Iowa’s offense in recent years it would be the tight ends in the passing game.
A year ago, Panther tight ends caught a combined nine passes which was equal to or better than each of the previous five seasons.
This fall, UNI quarterback’s has hit the Panthers top-two tight ends — Briley Moore and Elias Nissen — 31 times for 302 yards and four touchdowns. While it was Moore who was carrying the load early, Nissen, the junior from Springville, has been the go-to guy in the last two games.
Saturday, Nissen caught three touchdown passes in UNI’s 38-29 loss to Western Illinois, two of the conventional kind and one unconventional.
“He was just in position to make plays,” UNI head coach Mark Farley said. “He is a very sound football player, a very smart football player. And a quarterback tends to trust a guy who gets open, Elias is doing a great job of doing that.”
Nissen, who has 11 catches for 116 yards and four scores, including a touchdown last week against Southern Illinois, caught a 30-yard score to put UNI ahead 7-5 in the second quarter, and he made it 14-5 when he recovered a fumble in the end zone late in the half.
By rule, because Daurice Fountain had caught a 16-yard pass prior to the fumble, Nissen is credited with a touchdown reception, but not a catch or yardage for the play. Nissen also caught a two-point conversion pass that helped UNI pull to with 25-22 after his 18-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.
“My first two years, I was learning the game, learning to play at the college level,” said Nissen, who played 8-man football in Springville. “The last two years, I have really stepped into the role of having the team trust me with having my hand on the ground, blocking power and also being able to run routes out there and catch balls in the end zone.”FOUNTAIN GOES 3x100: Fountain, the senior from Madison, Wis., hauled in nine passes for 103 yards, his third consecutive game with more than 100 yards of receiving.
Fountain leads UNI with 32 catches for 452 yards and four scores.
BROWN GOES DOWN: Starting right tackle Spencer Brown suffered an apparent lower body injury on the point after touchdown conversion following Nissen’s first touchdown catch in the second quarter.
Farley said he had no status update on Brown, saying he was told after the play by trainers that that the redshirt freshman from Lenox would be unavailable to return.
Jacob Appleman, who was playing left tackle, switched to Brown’s position, and Cal Twait, the normal starting left tackle, who missed the Southern Illinois game, entered the game in his normal spot.