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FCS Game of the Week Preview: No. 9 Northern Iowa at No. 5 Weber State

Expect a slug fest between two defensive minded teams.

NCAA Football: Northern Iowa at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Game Time: Saturday, September 28, 2019, 8 p.m. ET

Location: Stewart Stadium, Ogden, Utah

How To Watch: Pluto TV

Betting Odds: Weber State -2.5, O/U 36

Defense will reign supreme on Saturday night when the No. 5 Weber State Wildcats host the No. 9 Northern Iowa Panthers. These teams boast two of the best defenses in the FCS, and they are boast offensively challenged. That means every point will matter in the game with the lowest total on the board this week.

Reasons to Like Northern Iowa

The Panthers nearly knocked off Iowa State in their season opener, sending the game to triple overtime before losing 29-26. Their defense did an excellent job of keeping the Cyclones out of the end zone, and they have continued to play great defense against their next two FCS opponents.

Northern Iowa allowed Southern Utah to average just 4.1 yards per pass attempt in a 34-14 win over the Thunderbirds, and Idaho State fared even worse. While Bengals quarterback Gunnar Amos averaged 5.2 yards per pass, he threw three interceptions and that led to two Northern Iowa field goals.

This run defense is excellent too. While Iowa State had some success running the ball, Northern Iowa held Southern Utah to 2.2 yards per carry and Idaho State to 1.8 yards per carry. Weber State will have a difficult time running against this team.

Reasons Not to Like Northern Iowa

The Panthers do not have a great offense by any metric. Northern Iowa is averaging just 2.4 yards per carry this year, and the two FCS teams they have faced don’t have great defenses. Trevor Allen is the team’s leading rusher with 51 yards per game, but he hasn’t broken off a run longer than 24 yards all season.

Will McElwain has been better at moving the ball through the air, but not by much. McElwain is asked to manage the game and not turn the ball over. He does a great job of that, but he doesn’t do much more. He has completed 61.3 percent of his passes, but he is averaging just 6.7 yards per pass attempt. Most of his damage was done against Southern Utah, and he was not sharp in UNI’s other two games.

Reasons to Like Weber State

The Wildcats are a mirror image of the Panthers, so you can pretty much just copy and paste what I said from above into these next two sections.

Weber State has shut down two FBS offenses, and Northern Iowa is unlikely to have much success against this defense. The Wildcats only allowed San Diego State to pick up 238 total yards of offense in their season opener, holding the Aztecs to just 3.3 yards per play in a 6-0 loss.

That defense rose up again two weeks ago against Nevada. The Wolfpack averaged just 5.2 yards per play against Weber State, and those numbers would have been better if their offense hadn’t been so anemic. Nevada ran 87 plays to just 49 plays for Weber State, leading to a gassed defense surrendering more yards in the second half.

Reasons Not to Like Weber State

I think you can make the case that Weber State’s defense is a little better than Northern Iowa’s, but the Panthers have a better offense than the Wildcats. Weber State’s offense is ranked 117th in the country, and the Wildcats are averaging just 4.3 yards per play. They couldn’t move the ball at all against either San Diego State and Nevada, and they had trouble throwing on Cal Poly.

Starting quarterback Jake Constantine underwent a procedure on his knee a few weeks ago, and he might not be available for this game as a result. In place of Constantine, Kaden Jenks went 6-21 for 57 yards with a touchdown and an interception against Nevada, so Weber State hopes Constantine is healthy.

Prediction

If you love defense, this is the game for you. Both of these coaches are excellent defensive minds, while the offenses are stuck in last century. Special teams will be big here in a very low-scoring game.

Final Score: Weber State 17, Northern Iowa 13