CEDAR FALLS – Bobby Petrino was treated to a water cooler bath Saturday night as the horn sounded on the resurgent Bears’ second victory over a ranked opponent in as many weeks.
Northern Iowa’s offense continued to spin its wheels during a 13-6 loss inside the UNI-Dome that essentially eliminated the No. 10-ranked Panthers from the FCS playoff conversation with their third loss in five games.
“It wasn’t good enough,” UNI head coach Mark Farley said after his team extended its streak without a touchdown to six quarters. “To only come away with six points in a situation like that, we have to do something on offense to create some change and to get a lot more production than what we’re getting out of them right now.
“We had a good field position a lot of times to start drives and we didn’t connect on them. We need to really go back and watch what we’ve done these first games and really make some changes to move forward.”
The Panthers (2-3) were forced to make major adjustments in the 24-plus hours leading into Saturday’s 4 p.m. kickoff. Farley found out at 7 a.m. on Friday starting quarterback Will McElvain would be unavailable due to COVID-19 protocol.
As a result, redshirt freshman Justin Fomby made his first start at the end of a week in which he had been running Missouri State’s offense as a scout team QB.
A three-star recruit from Lawrenceville, Georgia, Fomby finished 18 of 29 passing for 215 yards. He took three sacks under consistent pressure from Missouri State’s defensive front. His helmet popped off three times causing him to miss a play on the Bears’ 5-yard line in the first half and a second-down play from the 32 after a Benny Sapp III interception opened the second half.
“Really there was no practice time per se,” Farley said. “It was just taking the plan, adapting it to Justin’s skill set.”
Fomby and UNI’s offense showed promise early, moving the ball to Missouri State’s 32 on his opening series highlighted by a 17-yard completion to tight end Alex Allen. But that scoring opportunity ended on a fourth-and-one false start in what was the first of six costly UNI penalties.
“Penalties killed us all day long and particularly in the first half,” Farley said. “Every time we tried to do something on offense we had an offensive penalty. Part of that was probably because of communication.”
Missouri State, also competing with a back-up QB due to starter Jaden Johnson dealing with concussion symptoms, put together the game’s most complete drive on its initial series after a Nate Murphy punt pinned the Bears at their 9.
MSU marched 91 yards on 13 plays against a UNI defense that opened with a three-man front. Back-up Matt Struck completed a pair of third-and-short passes to Jordan Murray early. Tobias Little then hit a cutback on a 20-yard rush before a roughing the passer penalty set up Struck to Carson Buddmeyer from 3-yards out for the game’s lone touchdown.
Missouri State secured its first win over UNI since 2005. This marked just the second time a Farley-coached team has lost to the Bears in 19 meetings. UNI hadn’t lost to the Bears at home since 1988.
“Offensively we just do enough to get by right now, but we made plays when we had to,” Petrino said after Missouri State passed for 174 yards and netted 62 on the ground. “Great opening drive of the game and then a good job of finishing the game. We’ll take it.”
Much of UNI’s offensive struggles came down to the team’s lack of a run game. The Panthers netted just 27 yards on 26 carries and Fomby was often left in predictable third and long passing situations.
UNI’s best opportunity to score occurred during its two-minute drill at the end of the first half after Fomby’s lone interception allowed Missouri State to kick of field goal to go up 10.
During a drive that began with 1:24 until halftime, Isaiah Weston caught a 28-yard deep ball and Logan Wolf added a 15-yard reception. Wolf then stumbled to the 5-yard line at the end of a 27-yard catch and UNI’s quarterbacks couldn’t find enough time to punch the ball into the end zone.
Fomby’s helmet popped off under pressure during a first-down pass play. His back-up Nate Martens was rushed on the ensuing incomplete pass and Fomby took a sack before UNI settled for a Matthew Cook field goal.
“Justin did a good job of getting us down there in that two-minute offense,” Farley said. “We probably should have had a touchdown on Wolf’s catch, but we’re still in position to score with timeouts.
“Then we had a sequence of events with some missed opportunities is probably the best way to say it. A lot had to do with inexperience, once we got down there that tight. That’s where it was most evident that we weren’t ready for Justin to be the quarterback down in that situation.”
The Panthers’ defense generated favorable field position throughout the second half, but UNI’s third-quarter drives that began at the 45 and 50 ended in a punt from the 35 and a field goal. Cook missed a 47-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter and Missouri State converted a fourth-and-five prior to a field goal to go up seven with 4:30 remaining.
UNI’s next drive stalled at the 29. The Panthers punted the ball away with 2:33 remaining and never got it back. Struck’s 13-yard run on third and 10 with 2:12 remaining allowed the Bears to run out the clock.
“The defense held its ground and did the things it needed to do multiple times throughout the game,” Farley said. “But at the same time our defense’s job is to get as many opportunities as it can for the offense, and the offense needs to score points when they cross the 50-yard line.
“Everything needs to be looked at right now.”
Missouri St. 13, UNI 6
Missouri St. 7 3 0 3 — 13
No. Iowa 0 3 3 0 — 6
MSU: Carson Buddemeyer 3 pass from Matt Struck (Jose Pizano kick), 4:00. (Scoring drive: 13 plays, 91 yards, 6:47).
MSU: Pizano 31 FG, 1:24. (Scoring drive: 4 plays, 8 yards, 2:06).
UNI: Matthew Cook 27 field goal, 0:00. (Scoring drive: 11 plays, 65 yards, 1:24)
UNI: Cook 43 field goal, 0:55. (Scoring drive: 6 plays, 25 yards, 3:14)
MSU: Pizano 33 field goal, 4:30 (Scoring drive: 12 plays, 55 yards, 6:09.
First downs 14 11
Rushes-yards 36-62 26-27
Passing 174 215
Comp-Att-Int 19-25-1 18-30-1
Return Yards 53 74
Punts-Avg. 5-42.4 6-37
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 0-0
Penalty-Yards 6-35 10-57
Time of Possession 31:09 28:51
RUSHING — Missouri St., Tobias Little 12-38, Jeremiah Wilson 3-15, Matt Struck 7-7, Celdon Manning 13-4. N. Iowa, Dom Willimas 10-36, Tyler Hoosman 7-17, Quan Hampton 2-5, Deion McShane 1-4, Nate Marens 1-minus 5, Justin Fomby 5-minus 30.
PASSING—Missouri St., Struck 19-25-1-174. N. Iowa, Fomby 18-29-1-215.
RECEIVING—Missouri St., Damoriea Vick 6-67, Jordan Murray 4-43, Lorenzo Thomas 3-36, Cairo Payne 1-7, Isaac Smith 1-6, Celdon Manning 1-6, Ron Tiavaasue 1-3, Carson Buddemeyer 1-3, Jeremiah Wilson 1-3. N. Iowa, Quan Hampton 6-31, Logan Wolf 3-52, Deion McShane 3-23, Kyle Fourtenbary 2-48, Isaiah Weston 2-33, Alex Allen 1-17, Tysen Kershaw 1-11.