In many ways, Northern Iowa looks like a pretty decent FBS team that happens to play in FCS. The Panther offensive line averages 6’5” and 323 pounds, the defensive line averages 6’4” and 277 pounds, giving then and inch and 30 pound advantage over the Falcons’ lines. The quarterback started his college career at Michigan State. They’re loaded with super senior starting players. However, it became clear early in the game that the Falcons had one big advantage over the Panthers, and that was speed. On the Falcons’ first drive, Dane Kinnamon got seven yards behind the Panther defense for an 80 touchdown reception, and the Falcons were off to the races.
On, the next possession, Kinnamon took a pitch from Haziiq Daniels and outran the defense for a 71 yard touchdown run.
After two field goals, QB Daniels got a touchdown by outrunning a couple defenders on a sweep for a touchdown.
Even fullback Brad Roberts got into the act. After finding a hole off left tackle, Roberts outran the defenders for the longest touchdown of his career, 71 yards.
Even after the Falcons pulled the starters, the lower levels of the depth chart got into the act. Here’s junior RB Jalen Johnson getting the first touch of his college career.
Overall it was an excellent offensive effort, but the defense had some issues that need to be cleaned up. The Falcons finished with 582 rushing yards, the most in over 10 years, at a rate of 9.4 yards per carry. They converted 7 of 11 third down attempts and on two occasions were in a position to try for a fourth down conversion, but settled for field goals. Those kicks were somewhat out of character for the Falcons, but I believe Coach Calhoun opted for the kick to continue to build the confidence of sophomore Matt Dapore, who suffered some early season jitters last year.
Northern Iowa was able to contain the dive option from fullbacks pretty well. However, I think OC Mike Thiessen made good adjustments and called a couple plays that had FB Roberts run outside the tackle that made some good gains, including the touchdown run. The offensive line also was able to dominate on short yardage conversions when needed.
Haaziq Daniels had another outstanding performance, on par with his First Responder’s Bowl last year. His reads were good, his pitches were accurate, his timing was on, he was patient in letting his blocking develop on his keepers, and he hit Kinnamon in full stride on his touchdown pass. He was the NittanyFalcon Player of the Game.
The only negative for the offense was the five penalties for false starts, but I suppose we can chalk that up to opening day jitters. The two fumbles weren’t good either, but they occurred in garbage time with players deep into the depth chart getting their first shot at playing time.
On defense, it’s a bit of a different story. As usual the Falcons are content to keep the receivers in front of them, and the Panthers took advantage early with quick outs that moved the chains easily. Then QB Theo Day started to attack the middle of the field and those who were successful as well. The Falcons employed just a four man rush as they did last year, but without Jordan Jackson on the roster and first time starting nose guard Payton Zdroik in the game, the pass rush was not very effective. The Falcons were at least effective at making some stops on third downs, holding the Panthers to only 2 out of 8 on third down conversions. The concerning stats for NIU were the 286 passing yards and average rushing gain of 5.0 ypc. The Falcons will need to do better than that to beat some of their future opponents.
On the positive side, the Falcons forced two key turnovers in the second quarter that turned into 10 points, giving the Falcons a commanding 27-3 lead at half time. First Camby Goff made a tip drill interception from the safety position on a pass over the middle, and then TD Blackmon stripped the ball from Day, resulting in a fumble recovery for Michael Mack.
I had predicted a 31-13 Falcon victory, so I did OK on my prognostication. The surprise for me was the big plays on offense for the Falcons. I didn’t realize that they would have that kind of advantage in speed.
Come back in a few days for my preview of the P5 matchup against the Colorado Buffaloes next Saturday.