South Dakota State football primer: No. 1 Jackrabbits face final road test at Northern Iowa

Nov. 4—BROOKINGS — Facing its last road game of the regular season, the South Dakota State can clinch at least a share of the Missouri Valley Football Conference title with a win at Northern Iowa. Here's what to know ahead of the contest:

When: 4 p.m. Saturday

Where: UNI-Dome, Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Records: SDSU 8-1 overall, 6-0 Missouri Valley; UNI 5-4, 4-2 Missouri Valley.

Coaches: SDSU: John Stiegelmeier, 26th season, 193-112; UNI: Mark Farley, 22nd season, 167-96.

Last meeting: The Jackrabbits and Panthers last met on Oct. 23, 2021, in Brookings, with UNI leaving as 26-17 road winners.

Series history: SDSU and UNI have a history that dates back much further than their recent meetings as FCS and MVFC opponents. At the Division II level, the Jackrabbits and Panthers squared off for four decades before UNI moved from the North Central Conference to Division I in the late 1970s, In total, SDSU and UNI have played 58 times, with the Panthers ahead in the all-time series 33-23-2, including an 11-7 mark since the Jacks joined the FCS in 2004 and a split of the past 12 meetings.

Last week: SDSU rode a near-perfect offensive display to a 49-7 home win on Hobo Day, while UNI stopped a Hail Mary attempt just short of the goal line to preserve a 37-36 win against Southern Illinois.

Notes:

* SDSU tightened its grip on the No. 1 ranking this week, taking 53 of 54 first-place votes in the Stats Perform FCS poll. Meanwhile, UNI is in the middle of a pack of eight teams outside the top 25 but still receiving votes.

* Televised coverage will be available through Midco Sports or ESPN+.

About the Jackrabbits:

* SDSU's active right-game win streak ranks as its longest in the Division I era and has also pushed the Jacks to a 6-0 start to MVFC play for just the second time (2008). With a win Saturday, SDSU would tie the school record for most consecutive wins at nine, which was first set in 1928 and matched between 1950 and 1951.

* In last year's defeat against UNI, SDSU was held to 60 yards rushing. Even if Isaiah Davis sees limited action for a second-straight week due to injury, expect the Jackrabbits to emphasize the run game against a UNI defense that is giving up 157.7 rushing yards per game, which is fourth-worst in the MVFC. For the season, SDSU is averaging 161.7 yards per game on the ground.

* SDSU's defense, which continues to pace the MVFC in points allowed (15.1), total yards allowed (260.8), rushing yards allowed (72.4) and interceptions (12), will face a test this weekend against a high-powered Panther offense (more on that below).

* Since the start of the 2019 season, the Jacks are 12-3 in conference road games. None of those three losses came to a team outside the Dakotas (two to South Dakota, one to North Dakota).

About the Panthers:

* UNI has plenty to play for, as Saturday will go a long way in determining its playoff fate. The Panthers have reeled off three straight wins to get back on the fringes of playoff contention at 5-4. A win over the top-ranked team in the FCS might give UNI what it needs to be in with six wins (there's recent precedent for a 6-5 UNI team in the playoffs) regardless of the outcome of its final game. A loss, however, likely would leave the Panthers on the wrong side of the bubble.

* It's a coaching cliche, but longtime Panther coach Mark Farley has an impeccable track record of getting his teams to play their best football late in seasons. In 22 seasons under Farley's direction, UNI owns a 61-14 mark in November contests.

* Led by quarterback Theo Day, now in his second season with the Panthers after starting his college career at Michigan State, UNI's offense has put up the best numbers in the MVFC. Day leads the conference in passing yards (2,471) and touchdowns (19) while only throwing four interceptions. On the other end of Day's passes, target Sam Schnee and Deion McShane both rank in the MVFC top-10 for receiving, combining to haul in 70 passes for nearly 1,100 yards and four scores. As a team, the Panthers pace the MVFC in yards per game at 438.1 and are third (behind North Dakota State and South Dakota State) in scoring at 30.8 points per game.

* Linebacker Spencer Cuvelier leads the UNI defense with 77 tackles, which also leads the conference and is fourth by a per-game average (8.6). On the back end, Benny Sapp III and Woo Governor are two of the four players tied for the MVFC lead with three interceptions this season.

Next week: SDSU closes its regular season at home against Illinois State on Nov. 12. UNI is idle next week before its regular-season finale at South Dakota on Nov. 19.