FCS Game of the Week Preview – Northern Iowa vs. Illinois State

Everything started out great for Illinois State last week. The Redbirds jumped out to a 17-0 lead on South Dakota, and they looked to be on their way to a blowout win. However, everything fell apart after the first 20 minutes.

After three consecutive scoring drives of at least 65 yards, the offense completely stalled out. The Redbirds turned the ball over on five straight possessions, and that allowed the Coyotes to score 27 consecutive points on their way to the upset. Illinois State will be out to avoid an 0-2 start on Saturday when the Redbirds head to Cedar Falls to take on the Northern Iowa Panthers.

This game will take place on Saturday, March 6, 2021 at 5 p.m. ET at the UNI Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa. ESPN Plus will broadcast this game.  

College Football Betting Odds

Illinois State +7.5

Northern Iowa -7.5

Total 37

Last Meeting

The Panthers won last year’s meeting between these two Missouri Valley rivals thanks to a 13-point fourth quarter. Northern Iowa led 14-10 entering the final 15 minutes, and then freshman quarterback Will McElvain iced the game with the help of the Panthers’ defense. McElvain completed 14 of 28 passes for 189 yards with three touchdowns and a pick. Meanwhile, NIU’s defense held Illinois State to just 210 yards and 10 first downs, and the Redbirds turned the ball over four times.

Northern Iowa Offense vs. Illinois State Defense

McElvain had a solid freshman campaign, but he has been spotty as a sophomore. He has completed 34 of 59 passes for 343 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His size is a detriment against better defenses as he is a sub-six foot quarterback though.

Quan Hampton and Deion McShane are the only two legitimate receiving options. That’s not a good thing considering Dom Williams is only averaging 2.2 YPC as the primary ball carrier for the Panthers.

Illinois State’s defense held South Dakota to 300 total yards last week. However, the offense repeatedly left them out to dry. The Redbirds had one of the best defenses in the country in 2019, holding North Dakota State to a season-low nine points that season.

Illinois State Offense vs. Northern Iowa Defense

Bryce Jefferson had a nightmare season opener. Everything looked to be going well until the wheels came off with turnovers on five straight possessions. Jefferson threw four interceptions and fumbled twice as Illinois State turned the ball over seven times total in the loss.

The Redbirds won’t be that careless with the ball in this game, but the offense isn’t that good. Illinois State averaged a scant 19.8 PPG and 300.0 YPG on offense in 2019. This team had 447 total yards against South Dakota last week, but Northern Iowa has a much better defense.

Northern Iowa is allowing 12.0 PPG and 222.5 YPG this season. The Panthers have one of the best defenses in the nation, and that’s why this total is by far the lowest on the board this week in the FCS. They already have 11 tackles for loss and five sacks through two games.


Don’t expect a lot of scoring in this game. Illinois State has a decent chance to pull off the upset though, as McElvain just hasn’t been that impressive under center.

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