Due to the FCS Selection Committee’s preference of grouping teams by region, we will have a matchup of teams from the Missouri Valley in the quarterfinals when the Northern Iowa Panthers travel to Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium to take on the South Dakota State Jackrabbits on Saturday.
Northern Iowa left no doubt which was the better team in its first round matchup against Monmouth. The Panthers totally dominated the game from start to finish, holding a 46-0 lead at the end of the third quarter before deciding to call off the dogs. Northern Iowa forced four turnovers and finished with over 500 total yards of offense to easily cover the spread.
The Jackrabbits had the week off and were given a high seed by the committee as a reward for being the one team that knocked off North Dakota State in the regular season. South Dakota State ended the season in very impressive fashion, beating Western Illinois, NDSU, Illinois State, and South Dakota to lock up a bye.
FCS Second Round Betting Odds
Northern Iowa +9.5
South Dakota State -9.5
These teams squared off at South Dakota State about a month and a half ago and the Jackrabbits are looking for a different result after what happened then. Northern Iowa pounced on the Jackrabbits from the beginning, racing out to a 17-0 lead. The Panthers shut down SDSU’s ground game and held the Jackrabbits to under three yards per carry while forcing two fumbles.
That meant Taryn Christion had to beat Northern Iowa through the air, and he was simply unable to. He had some big plays, but he completed just 40 percent of his passes and lacked the touch necessary to move the chains.
The Panthers controlled the clock and were able to grind the Jackrabbits down with a consistent run game. They didn’t have a run longer than 15 yards, but Northern Iowa held the ball for more than 40 minutes and converted on third down time and time again. The Panthers averaged a full yard less per play than the Jackrabbits, but Marcus Weymiller had a big day as the team’s workhorse back with 42 carries for 170 yards and two scores.
Matchup to Watch
It goes without saying that Northern Iowa will try to replicate the same formula it used for success in the first meeting. Whereas most of the big boys in the MVC have very good run defenses, South Dakota State’s has been abnormally bad this season. The Jackrabbits have allowed teams like Northern Iowa and Youngstown State to slowly wear them out with tough yards between the tackles.
SDSU is allowing opponents to run for 4.7 yards per carry, a number that almost puts it outside of the top 100 in terms of rush defense. Of the teams that the Jackrabbits beat to end the season, none could wear them down like the Panthers can either because of injury (North Dakota State) or scheme (South Dakota and Western Illinois).
Northern Iowa’s rushing game isn’t as bad as the numbers seem to indicate. The Panthers are averaging 3.1 yards per carry, but they also played in the toughest conference in the FCS and faced two very good non-conference teams in Iowa State and Southern Utah. Keep that in mind if you’re hesitant about pulling the trigger with the Panthers.
The big concern with betting on Northern Iowa is the health of quarterback Eli Dunne. He suffered a chest injury against Missouri State and didn’t play in the regular season finale against Indiana State. He looked good against Monmouth, but the Hawks defense doesn’t have near the talent of the Jackrabbits.
Dunne thrives off of play action, and as long as the running game has some success—and he is healthy—I think Northern Iowa will pull off the upset once again. The Panthers have a very good defense and can stop the Jackrabbits running game, which is the key to beating this team. Christion struggles if the linebackers aren’t loosened up by the ground game and that will be the case again.
Pick: Northern Iowa +9.5