It’s time for your weekly scouting report brought to you by BWahlberg on the eGriz forums!

University of Northern Iowa Panthers

We’re less than a week away from the Grizzlies home opener against UNI. Early scouting reports can be tough, especially when we’ve got a coaching change. For the sake of stats I compared what Rosenbach’s offense at Adams State looked like compared to Stitt’s last year. They were moderately similar so I’m going to use our stats from last year and as we should all expect… it’s probably not going to be precisely the same.

UNI enters the season with a wide array of rankings. Stats has them at 13th (UM 25th), the coaches poll at 12th (UM 24th). Meanwhile Athlon puts them at 19th and Montana at 18th. Without the UNI depth chart out this number may flex a little but it looks like they’re returning 4 of 5 starters on the OL, replacing most of their WRs and as known their most experienced WR is out for the season. Their QB/RB corps appears to most be returning from last year. Defensively when looking at a few of their game participation reports from last year and comparing to this year’s roster it looks like they only return a handful of starters, they may have 7 to 8 new starters on defense this season.

UNI run a fairly balanced offense, unlike the last time we saw them it would appear that they’re not relying on having a running QB as much as they used to. They’ve got a pair of running backs they’ll feature and tend to play fairly clean/error-free football while having a solid (but not flashy) defense that tends to force a lot of turnovers.

Going off games last year, lets highlight a few:

22-37 loss vs South Dakota State: In a playoff rematch (where UNI won in the regular season) the Jackrabbits got their revenge. SDSU controlled the game most of the way, holding a 34-7 lead until about 7:00 left in the game where then UNI tacked on some garbage points. SDSU scored on some big plays, most of their TDs came from over 20 yards away from the endzone, they also really controlled the ball, with about 35:00 of TOP.

45-38 win (OT) vs Cal Poly: This was pretty early in the season. Poly ran for 305 while UNI passed for 325, interestingly Poly also had about 230 passing yards and outgained the Panthers by about 150 yards. UNI probably had this game won in regular time but Poly scored with 2:05 left to get within 7, then forced a quick UNI punt, and then scored on a 53 yard TD pass with 5 seconds left in the game to tie it. In OT UNI scored a TD while Poly couldn’t find the endzone. 220 yards in penalties in this game, ouch!

21-24 loss vs Southern Utah: SUU was holding a lead through a good stretch of this game, never a real comfortable one though. UNI got rolling late and tied the game up with just 5:30 left on the clock, scoring 10 unanswered 4th quarter points. From there SUU put together a solid drive and kicked the eventual game winning TD, and then picked off a UNI pass to end the game. Lots of turnovers in this game, UNI had 3, SUU had 4. SUU seemed to have better success on 3rd down and I notice their defense smothered the UNI rushing game, UNI finished with -18 rushing yards. Most of that came from giving up 4 sacks, but regardless UNI’s top rusher had just 13 yards.

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General Stats from 2017

Passing yards per game Montana (305 for UM vs 205 for UNI)
Rushing yards per game Montana (259 rush ypg vs 120 rush ypg for UNI)
Total offense Montana (455 for the Griz vs 355 for UNI)
Passing yards allowed per game UNI (235 ypg allowed vs 253 ypg allowed)
Rushing yards allowed per game UNI (126 ypg allowed vs 170 ypg allowed)
Total defense UNI (361 ypg allowed vs 422 ypg allowed)

Tied up 3-3 each… UNI has the defensive numbers while UM has the offense.

Offense points scored Montana (35 vs 29.4)
Defense points allowed UNI (23.6 vs 29)
Turnover margin UNI – UM is -3 while UNI was +8
Fieldgoal % Montana – .88 for Montana / .80 for UNI
Punt Returns Montana (7.4 YPR vs 6.2 YPR)
Kick Returns UNI (18.3 for UNI vs 18 for UM)
T.O.P. UNI (32:05 for UNI vs 27:40 for UM)
Red Zone defense (touchdowns) UNI (UM 57% / UNI 52% )
Red Zone offense (touchdowns) PUSH (62% for both)
3rd down offense Montana (converts 41% of the time while 40% of UNIT)
3rd down defense UNI (UM 38% / UNI 34%)

Montana adds 4 while UNI adds 6 and we’ve got 1 push. That puts Griz at 7 and UNI at 9 with 1 push. Again though, tough to read as Montana has an all new staff and some presumed differences in design on offense and defense. Meanwhile, UNI is replacing a giant portion of their defense.

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Players to Watch:

#8 Marcus Weymiller, RB – Despite missing 2 games in 2017 Weymiller was still UNI’s leading rusher in almost every relevant category. He finished with 809 yards, 8 TDs, and another 100 yards receiving. He’s a 5-10, 204 pound senior. Expect a heavy dose of this dude.

#14 Eli Dunne, QB – a 6-5, 238 pound QB Dunne started every game last year for the Panthers. He averaged a little over 225 yards per game, had 26 passing TDs to 11 INTs. Not much of a rushing threat, shows just 90 yards on the ground gained last year.

#86 Briley Moore, TE – Moore returns as the most experienced pass catcher on the team and maybe their best (known) threat in the passing game. Moore is 6-3, and almost 245 pounds. Last season he was 2nd on the team in receptions with 38 and had 494 receiving yards which is also 2nd best on the team. Moore was voted the 1st team all-MFVC tight end.
#83 Jaylin James, WR – James was 3rd best for UNI in receiving last year, 338 yards and 1 TD. He’s their #1 WR presumably for this game.

#25 Trevor Allen, RB – Allen is built just like Weymiller, he’s 5-10 and 203 pounds. He was the 2nd leading rusher on the team with 412 yards and 2 TDs. His YPC average was 4.5 where Weymiller was 4.0. Allen was also tied for 3rd best on the team in receptions with 33 for 338 yards and 2 TDs, so this guy will be someone that needs to be accounted for all over the field.

#85 Elias Nissen, TE – UNI likes to use two TEs quite a bit, not a lot of yards for the 6-4, 243 pound senior, just 204, but he finished 3rd best in receiving TDs with 4.

#7 Rickey Neal, LB/DE – This their Josh Buss equivalent on defense. Neal was named to a few All-American lists as well as 2nd team all-MVFC. Only 51 tackles last season doesn’t grab much attention but his other stats do. 15 TFLs, 9.5 sacks, 7 QB hits, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. He’s 6-1, and 241 pounds and has some NFL potential chatter about him as well.

#39 Duncan Ferch, LB – 2nd on the team with 94 tackles, he also 6 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 INT, and 2 fumble recoveries.

#98 Bryce Douglass, DT – A big 305 pound D-lineman this guy had 48 stops last year, he transferred in from Illinois, recorded 8 TFLS, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble.

#9 Xavior Williams, DB – I believe this 5-10, 175 DB is the lone returning starter to the UNI defensive secondary. He landed on the 2nd team all-MVFC list and lead the team with 4 INTs and 12 pass breakups last year. He’s also their main kick returner and has a solid 24.5 yard per return average.
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Keys to a Grizzly victory

1. Focus on execution. A staple of most Hauck-lead teams, execute, make plays, limit mistakes. In previous years the Griz would rely on home game emotion and some wild plays to make things happen at times. This year, it’s back to the basics and trusting the plan that’s presented. I have the utmost confidence that the coaches will have a solid plan to win this game, however… can this group of guys execute to the levels that are expected of them?

2. Stop the run. UNI doesn’t seem to be billed as team that’s going to air it out, and based on the pre-season talks with the unknown status of Josh Buss, I’d suspect they’ll look to attack a LB/S corps that is replacing a lot of graduated experience. If the Griz can take away the ground game from UNI and not let them control the LOS, that will be huge.

3. Positive turnover margin. This will be interesting as both teams will have a lot of new faces on their defensive units. Sometimes that results in fewer turnovers forced as new guys tend to take a while to get comfortable in their position. Emotions will be high and hopefully the Grizzly defense can force a few key turnovers as the game goes on.

4. Keep UNI guessing. Much like 2015 when NDSU came to Montana there’s an element of surprise the Griz hold in this game. I expect that we’re going to see a lot of new and unique stuff through the game, which hopefully plays to some advantage for the Griz.

5. Defend the short passes, limit YAC. UNI has lost their most experienced WR for the season but return a damn good pass-catching RB and two great TEs. You can bet a good portion of their game will be shorter passes that focus on YAC or the TE’s just outmatching who’s guarding them.

6. Flip the field with ST. Both teams have dynamic returners, the team that better covers these players will take away a good weapon and will be a big help to their defenses. Will UNI even kick to JLM? We’ll have to see. Where recently Griz ST couldn’t cover well, I expect a MUCH better showing from them this year.

7. Don’t let Neal go off. It’s no secret the Griz graduated 4 O-linemen last year and UNI’s stud defender has to be licking his chops. This guy is going to need to be accounted for through the whole game.

8. Have fun. I expect a renewed energy from Griz Nation and given the scale of the game and the excitement around town already, this is going to be one damn fun game against a super tough opponent. Feed off the energy and know almost everyone in there will be on your side.

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This game seems like a total toss-up to me. UNI has some experience on their D-line and pass rush that makes me worried with our 4 new O-line starters. However their secondary, save 1 guy, is all new. Meanwhile the Griz have their own defensive unknowns too and are breaking in a new QB starter where UNI has a veteran QB going. This strikes me as a game that’s going to be a lot of ground and pound with short(er) passes. Whoever stops the run the best could be the winner.

Having watched these Griz through spring and fall camps I really do feel these guys are ready, they have the heart and the passion. It’s going to be a tough one but I’ll say the Griz edge out a wild and intense game, 24-17.

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