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No. 12 Weber State football faces important test at No. 21 Northern Iowa

By Brett Hein - Standard-Examiner | Sep 8, 2023

Robert Casey, Weber State Athletics

Weber State defensive lineman Adam Rodriguez (9) sacks Northern Iowa quarterback Will McElvain during a game Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.

There's an importance to this week's game for Weber State football beyond it being a road trip to face a ranked team from the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

It mostly goes unspoken internally but, looking at No. 12 WSU's schedule, it will be a big deal for season-long goals to pick up a win this week at No. 21 Northern Iowa.

To spell it out: Weber State's opening win over a Division II opponent doesn't count when it comes time for evaluation by the playoff selection committee. Next week, the Wildcats face Utah; the Utes are ranked No. 12 in FBS polls. So a win this week provides a cushion for play in the tough Big Sky while a loss erases most margin for error.

The Wildcats are focused on internal improvement and preparation either way.

"It's always about us -- what's our process look like during the week, how are we going about our business? If we take care of that, we'll have a chance to win every week," WSU head coach Mickey Mental said. "I think we're talented and we're together, so I like where we're at if we focus on us and what we need to do."

Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley has been around long enough -- he's led the Panthers since 2001 -- to have a feel for what Weber State's done lately, including taking a convincing 2019 loss to WSU in Ogden.

"Montana, Montana State have a lot of the financial edge," Farley said, as reported by The Courier. "But Weber always has that toughness to them that makes them one of those teams that is always a contender in their own league."

Northern Iowa is looking for better offensive consistency and more communication on defense after losing 30-9 at Iowa State.

MEET THE PANTHERS

Mental says Northern Iowa is strong in all three phases and plays "complementary football."

Quarterback Theo Day (No. 12) leads the offense -- "one of the best pocket quarterbacks in the country, in my personal opinion," Mental said. Day was an underwhelming 16 of 34 for 164 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions last week against Iowa State. But he threw for 5,400 yards and 42 touchdowns over 22 games in the two previous seasons.

Day also has a big senior to hand the ball to: 6-foot-4, 230-pound Tye Edwards (No. 2). The former junior college star was at FBS UTSA last season and just made his debut with the Panthers, carrying the ball 16 times for 72 yards -- a 4.5 per-carry average that was the lone bright spot for his team's offense last week.

"He runs well between the tackles and has enough speed to be dangerous on the outside," Mental said.

Defensively, Northern Iowa returns all-Missouri Valley defensive back Woo Governor (No. 32) and defensive tackle Khristian Boyd (No. 99), who both have WSU's attention. Fifth-year senior Cordarrius Bailey (No. 1) could be an impact player at defensive end.

TEAM VS. TEAM METRICS

Weber State, after one game against Central Washington: WSU's offense totaled 35 points and 306 yards on a 5.7 yards-per-play average; defensively, WSU allowed 10 points and 276 yards on a 3.7 yards-per-play average.

Northern Iowa, after one game against Iowa State: UNI totaled nine points and 279 yards on a 3.9 yards-per-play average; defensively, UNI allowed 30 points and 250 yards on a 5.6 yards-per-play average.

ODDS & PREDICTIONS

Jeff Sagarin ranks Weber State No. 11 in FCS and No. 126 in all of Division I (FBS and FCS). Northern Iowa is No. 4 in FCS and No. 101 overall. Including accounting for home-field advantage, his formula favors Northern Iowa by 7.5 points.

Bill Connelly ranks Weber State at No. 9 in FCS and Northern Iowa at No. 24. His formula favors Weber State by five, predicting a score of 31-26.

D Ratings predicts a Weber State victory by a 28-25 score at 60% probability.

WEATHER

Often, dome football feels like a way for schools in cold-weather climates to escape snow and freezing temperatures. This week, the Wildcats and Panthers will enjoy a retreat from the relative heat, playing inside the UNI-Dome while outside temperatures will be in the low 80s throughout the game.

TV & RADIO

The game's video broadcast will stream on the ESPN+ subscription service with Brad Wells and Justin Surrency on the call in Cedar Falls.

Weber State's radio broadcast will air on 103.1 FM in Utah and online at www.1031thewave.com, with Steve Klauke and Jerry Graybeal on the mic.

ALL-TIME SERIES

The all-time series is knotted at 2-2. The last meeting was in 2019, a game WSU won 29-17 in Ogden. The last time the teams met in the UNI-Dome was an FCS playoff game in 1991, when the Panthers vanquished Jamie Martin and company 38-21.

This year's contest was originally scheduled for the 2020 season that was postponed to conference-only games in the spring of 2021 by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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