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Northern Iowa's Austin Evans hooks Idaho State's Michael Dean for the tackle during action at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.

CEDAR FALLS — Mark Farley didn’t necessarily disagree with the penalties.

Twice Saturday in No. 9 Northern Iowa’s 13-6 win over Idaho State at the UNI-Dome, the Panthers were flagged for unsportsmanlike penalties for ‘blindside’ blocks on interception returns.

It was the first time that rules 2-3-7 and 9-1-18 in the NCAA rule book, initiated this season, have affected UNI in a game.

The first on Xavior Williams following an Austin Evans interception didn’t hurt much. The second on Seth Thomas in the fourth quarter erased a Bryce Flater interception return for a touchdown.

“I thought those penalties ... I thought that was the story,” Farley said. “We learned a lot. That is going to take away some punt return blocks, some intercept return blocks.

“It was great learning, and it did not cost us a football game.”

Both flags clearly fell under the definition of the new rules:

(Rule 2-3-7 and 9-1-18), defined as an open field block against an opponent that is initiated from outside the opponent’s field of vision, or otherwise in such a manner that the opponent cannot reasonably defend himself against the block. An exception is when the runner or receiver is in the act of attempting to make a catch.

No player shall deliver a blind-side block by attacking an opponent with forcible contact. This results in a personal foul, 15-yard penalty. In addition, if this action meets all the elements of targeting, it is a blind-side block with targeting (Rule 9-1-3 and 9-1-4).

“That is what they call unprotected,” Farley said when asked if he was given an explanation for both flags. “I just think the way the rule is that in doubt you just throw the flag. If you see a great big hit the rest of the season, I’m guessing you are going to get an unsportsmanlike penalty.

“That is what we got to teach them, in particular on defense, in particular on punt returns and you are going to have to be cautious even on a reverse because those are all blindside hits that could be called back.”

On a YouTube video from the SEC Media Days, SEC Coordinator of Officials, Steve Shaw explained that what should be allowed is a player in a screen mode or has his hands extended is a good play, but if he lowers a shoulder and delivers a blow or lowers his head, those were the types of plays he wanted to see penalized.

“The goal of the rule is to allow a guy to block, but have both players play the next play,” Shaw said.

Idaho State breakdown:

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The offense: It was a monumental struggle most of the day for the Panthers as they managed just 234 yards, although there was much better production in the second half when they produced 175.

Self-inflicted wounds hurt a lot. A holding penalty on UNI’s opening possession put them in a deep hole, and on two of the next three possessions, blitzes saw unblocked defensive backs sack quarterback Will McElvain for big losses.

A huge 60-yard run by Tyler Hoosman in the fourth quarter was called back for hold on a wide receiver.

“They definitely mixed things up,” McElvain said. “I wouldn’t say they caught us off guard, but they definitely were winning the beginning of the game with some of the things they were doing, and how many different things they were able to do.”

Among the positives were Hoosman and Trevor Allen averaging 4.6 yards per carry as they combined to rush for 105 yards on 23 carries.

The defense: There are probably not enough superlatives to go around as there were superb efforts across the board.

The Panthers picked off three passes, sacked Idaho State quarterback Gunnar Amos five times and gave up just 203 total yards, the fewest since they held Hampton to 204 last season.

“I think we have high expectations every game no matter if the offense is putting up 50 points or 10 points. It doesn’t matter,” said defensive end Elerson Smith, who was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s defensive player of the week.

UNI had 10 tackles for loss as a team.

Three stars

1. Elerson Smith: Recorded nine tackles, 3.5 for loss with three sacks while also being credited with a forced fumble and pass breakup.

2. Xavior Williams: The junior defensive back recorded four pass breakups and leads the Missouri Valley Conference with eight through three games.

3. Tyler Hoosman: Accounted for 84 total yards — 55 rushing and 29 receiving — all in the second half to give UNI’s offense a spark.

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