FCS Playoffs: Northern Iowa at South Dakota State

NCAA Football

FCS Second-Round Playoff

The Matchup – Northern Iowa (9-4, 6-2 Missouri Valley) at No. 7 seed South Dakota State (8-4, 5-3 Missouri Valley)

Kickoff – 2 p.m. ET at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings, South Dakota

Coverage – ESPN3

Series – Northern Iowa leads 31-22-2 (last meeting: South Dakota State won 38-7 at home on Nov. 16)

Coaches – Northern Iowa: Mark Farley (158-82, 19 seasons); South Dakota State: John Stiegelmeier (166-104, 23 seasons)

3 Players to Watch – Northern Iowa: QB Will McElvain (2,914 yards of total offense, 20 passing TDs vs. 6 INTs), WR Isaiah Weston (41 receptions, 1,040 receiving yards, 10 TDs), LB Bryce Flater (113 tackles, 7½ tackles for loss); South Dakota State: QB Keaton Heide (71 of 100, 905 yards, 6 TDs), WR Cade Johnson (67 receptions, 1,187 yards, 8 TDs), MLB Christian Rozeboom (101 tackles, 4 takeaways)

The Skinny – This is the postseason’s first rematch from the regular season – SDSU led 17-7 through three quarters, but pulled away with three touchdowns in the fourth. UNI’s McElvain had the worst game of his rookie season with four turnovers, while Heide, also a freshman, had his best performance in a game when Jackrabbits two-time 1,000-yard rusher Pierre Strong Jr. was lost to injury. UNI is fueled by its defense, allowing just a field goal to San Diego in the first round and holding five of its last six opponents to 10 points or less (all but SDSU). The Panthers have struggled to run the ball, but opponents have had it worse, averaging just 2.8 yards per carry and 108.7 rushing yards per game. Their pass rush has produced 37 sacks, led by DE Elerson Smith (13) and NT Jared Brinkman (seven). Weston sat out the SDSU game with an injury, but he has returned for the playoffs and is averaging an FCS-high 25.4 yards per catch. SDSU, coming off a first-round bye, has lost three of its last five games, including the regular-season finale at South Dakota. RB Mikey Daniel has raised his play in Strong’s absence with 207 rushing yards and two TDs in the last two games. Fumbles have been a problem for SDSU – 23 overall and 15 lost. Rozeboom is the Jackrabbits’ all-time leading tackler, reaching 100 stops in each of his four seasons. He leads a unit that is allowing 17 points and 299.5 yards per game – the second-best averages of the Jackrabbits’ Division I era (since 2004).

Up Next – The winner will play either Monmouth (11-2) or No. 2 seed James Madison (11-1) in the quarterfinals Dec. 13 or 14.

Prediction – Strong is a big-play specialist, so it would be huge if he returns. UNI is only 2-4 outside its dome, so the Jackrabbits gain an edge outdoors. South Dakota State, 24-17.

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