FCS Playoff Preview: South Dakota State Hosts Northern Iowa
All season long, South Dakota State had to endure the minefield that is the Missouri Valley Conference schedule, emerging with six wins in their eight league games - good for a second place tie in the MVFC.
But as the FCS Playoffs begin for SDSU, after a first round bye, the Jackrabbits still have some unfinished business with their home conference.
Saturday (December 2), South Dakota State (9-2) hosts the only team to defeat them on their home field this season, Northern Iowa.
The Panthers (8-4), one of five MVFC teams to qualify for the playoffs in 2017, made quick work of Monmouth in round one, scoring on their first nine possessions of the game, en route to a 46-7 win, their fourth straight.
UNI's stingy defense and resurgent running game have fueled their last season run.
The Panthers allowed the fewest rushing yards (105) and second fewest points (20) per conference game in 2017. They also picked off the most posses (12).
Linebacker Rickey Neal had the most sacks (9 1/2) and most tackles for loss (14) in league play. Fellow linebacker Jared Farley was sixth in tackles. Defensive back Elijah Campbell tied for the MVFC lead with four interceptions.
On the ground, junior running back Marcus Weymiller finished with the highest per game average in the league (113 yards in six games), registering four performances of better than 100 yards.
Quarterback Eli Dunne is coming off a four touchdown game against Monmouth, completing 18 of his 26 passes for 260 yards.
Wide receiver Daurice Fountain caught ten of those passes for 139 yards and two scores. Fountain was fifth in the Missouri Valley in receiving this season.
Northern Iowa also has the most accurate field goal kicker in the league. Sam Drysdale missed just once on 13 attempts and was a perfect 23-of-23 on extra point tries.
Kickoff is 2:00 PM, Saturday in Brookings.
Back in October in Brookings, UNI took advantage of two early SDSU turnovers to build a 17-point first quarter lead, en route to a 38-18 win.
That early cushion gave the Panthers the luxury of running the football almost exclusively for the final three quarters. UNI finished with 218 rushing yards on 60 carries. Weymiller, getting his first carries of the year, netted 170 of those yards.
Since that defeat, the Jackrabbits have reeled off five straight wins.
I talked with Jackrabbit head coach John Stiegelmeier about the bye week and the second round bye match-up with Northern Iowa: