Before each North Dakota State football game, the BisonReport will ask five questions of an opposing beat writer. This week, we spoke with Northern Iowa beat writer Ryan Nelson of the Northern Iowan (Cedar Falls, Iowa) to preview the Bison's Week 9 away game against the Northern Iowa Panthers.
1) Northern Iowa has had quite the up and down season thus far, winning their opener against Iowa State, but has since lost four of their last six games. How are the fans / media feeling about this Panther Football team right now?
RN: Quite frankly, this is starting to become a running theme. For now the third time in the last 3 years, UNI had started of fairly shaky, but in each of the last 2 years, the team fired off impressive finishes winning as many as 7 straight I believe last year, so no one is panicking yet. Each game we have lost this year has been close, with 3 of those losses in the final minute.Defense has been there all year, now we just need to find some offense (which we may have found now).
2) Quarterback Eli Dunne got the start last week and absolutely dismantled Missouri State at home. Are we going to see more Dunne this week, or will Aaron Bailey be worked in more?
RN: Dunne was outstanding. Rumor has it that Bailey has had a shoulder issue which explains his limited action/ struggles passing. Both Dunne and Bailey took snaps pregame against MSU, so at this time it's a toss up still. I wouldn't doubt seeing action from both, but I think Dunne may get the start. I have no indication though what's going to happen.
3) The two play-makers on offense appear to be running back Tyvis Smith and wide receiver Daurice Fountain, how have they helped this Panther offense, and who are some other names to note?
RN: Really our offense is more of a balance. If Bailey plays, he's always a candidate to get 100 yards on the ground as he tends to be more of an elusive QB. Running back Michael Malloy will likely get a lot of touches when in the red zone as he can just hop over the line. Jalen Rima has been starting to emerge too- he has a tremendous amount of speed for a freshman. If Dunne plays we will see a variety of targets, he's a very patient pocket passing quarterback.
4) Northern Iowa's defense appears to be led by defensive linemen Karter Schult and Hezekiah Applegate, how big are they for Northern Iowa, and who else should fans watch out for on Saturday?
RN: The defense has been our lifesaver this year. Schult leads all of D1 football in sacks, and the secondary has been clicking on all cylinders. Multiple games in a row lately have they came away with multiple interceptions. UNI is also tied for second in Defensive Td's. You may see big plays from all three linebackers- AJ Allen, Jared Farley, and Duncan Ferch.
5) What are the keys for Northern Iowa if they're going to beat the Bison, and what's your score prediction for the North Dakota State vs. Northern Iowa game, and why?
RN: If UNI plays to the same level they did last weekend, I have no doubt they win. The defense must control the run game of NDSU, and make them look to the air. UNI has made a lot of great defensive plays off of opponents pass plays. They need to prevent big plays too, keep momentum away from NDSU. Offensively, they need to remain awake like they did last week. Take care of the ball, and take advantage of field position. I look at common opponents and there are 2: eastern wash and Missouri State. UNI lost in the last 45 seconds at EWU, and NDSU won in OT, so that's essentially a wash. UNI would have shut out MO State had it not been for a very lucky lateral play. They also put up 61 on them. Bison only put up 27.
UNI has the edge in total defense, time of possession, both things that could be big factors.
Prediction: With slight bias, I favor UNI 24-14. It's at the UNI-Dome, one of the toughest places to play in FCS. We appeared to have figured things out, and UNI seems to show up in big games more times than not at home.