BROOKINGS, S.D. — A road victory in October has some carrying weight.
No. 20 Northern Iowa (8-4) has confidence in its ability to go back to Brookings, S.D. and beat fifth-ranked South Dakota State (10-2) Saturday for the second time this season.
But the Panthers also know several other important factors go into this second-round FCS playoff game where the winners move on and the losers clean out their lockers.
“It will be different teams. It won’t be the same game,” senior linebacker Jared Farley said of Saturday’s game compared to UNI’s 38-18 win on Hobo Day on Oct. 14. “I’m sure they have been watching the film of that game.
“But they have evolved, and we have evolved. Both made a lot of improvements. They went on a streak and we’ve been streaking, too. It will be a hard-fought game.”
Farley is right. The Jacks vividly remember that cold, rainy day that saw thousands of their fans leave at halftime with the Panthers leading 24-6.
SDSU readily admits it did not recognize the team that played UNI on that day. The Jacks committed several first-half errors, a lot of them unforced, that allowed the Panthers to take early control.
SDSU haven’t let it happen again, closing their season with five straight wins, including victories over fellow MVFC playoff qualifiers Western Illinois, North Dakota State and South Dakota.
And SDSU also has talked about the first UNI game and a potential rematch during its bye week.
“We did bring it up,” Jack head coach John Stiegelmeier told the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader. “I don’t know if (the players) are angry, but they definitely want to redeem themselves. They want another shot to prove who they are to Northern Iowa.”
That first game was a catalyst for both the Panthers and Jacks.
UNI entered that game 2-3 and with three more ranked teams coming in consecutive weeks, a loss could’ve put the Panthers in downward spiral they may have been unable to shake free from. SDSU fell to 1-2 in the MVFC and had four-ranked league opponents left on its schedule.
“We went out there having to win. We had to win that game,” UNI head coach Mark Farley said. “This one ... we’re at the stage of where the winner moves on. It will be different. We had three more (ranked) games after that ... this one somebody is done when the day is over.
“I think we have matured since that football game. They are a much better football team since that day. That is the way it is supposed to be when you get to December.”
This game will be different and that starts with the weather. In October the temperatures reached low 40s, possibly high 30s and there was a steady rain. Saturday’s forecast calls for it to be partly cloudy with temperatures near 50 at game time.
On the field there aren’t many secrets between the Panthers and Jacks.
Everybody knows UNI has to deal with SDSU’s three-headed offensive monster of Taryn Christion, Dallas Goedert and Jake Weineke. The Jacks have scored 30 or more points in all but one of their last five games, including 33 against perhaps the best defense in the FCS, North Dakota State.
“I don’t know if they are any different,” Mark Farley said. “They haven’t lost since we played them so they’ve been playing really great football. Their execution right now is very good, too, in all phases of the game and as always they have some tremendous players.”
The Panthers, for their part, can hope the Jacks hand them some unforced errors, but in reality, have to use a similar script they used in the first game.
UNI needs to control ball with its run game. While it averages 3.1 yards per carry (100th nationally), UNI ran for 218 in the first game, 170 from Marcus Weymiller, which allowed the Panthers to hold the ball for 40 minutes and 29 seconds.
The Panthers also don’t want to get into a shootout, although as well as both team’s offenses have been playing it could end up that way. SDSU’s five-game win streak happened despite the Jacks giving up 30, 24, 21, 24 and 28 points.
“There is a reason why they got the seed,” senior wide receiver Daurice Fountain said. “They have a great team. Have a great offense. We have to prepare really hard because it is going to be hard.”
UNI has given up more than 20 points just twice while going 6-1 over its final seven games, including allowing just 10, 3 and 7, in its last three.
“Again, this time it is a different game. It’s starting from scratch and we will see what we can put together,” Mark Farley said. “We will look at it (the first game), at the same time they will, too. That is part of the chess match now. What to play.”