Another early kickoff for Western Illinois as Leathernecks entertain Northern Iowa

Western Illinois hosts Northern Iowa in Missouri Valley Football Conference action Saturday in Macomb. (photo courtesy

The starting time for Saturday’s Missouri Valley Football Conference game between Western Illinois and 22nd-ranked Northern Iowa has been moved from a nighttime start to 11 a.m kickoff. Perhaps that will ignite the home-standing Leathernecks to their first win of the spring.

Time will certainly tell as WIU also kicked off before noon and quickly fell behind rival Illinois State at Normal’s Hancock Stadium a week ago. Though Western rallied for 15 fourth quarter points, the Leathernecks lost 26-18 to ISU. WIU is 0-4 on the season.

Western head coach Jared Elliott remains committed despite the lack of wins.

“There’s really nothing else to tell them. It is what it is. We’re at where we’re at. You can throw in the white towel and quit, but that’s really not an option. You just find a way to get better,” Elliott told Prairie State Pigskin‘s Barry Bottino after Saturday’s defeat.

“We’ve got good kids on this team,” he added. “We have to get some young players better. As a coach you have to look at ‘what are we teaching? What are we coaching?’ Are we doing things that play to our strengths? How do we help make the weaknesses not as weak? We’ve got to learn how to win right now.

Laying down the Law(son) with powerful Wattage

Senior defensive back Michael Lawson led Western with a season-high 13 tackles (9 solo) and added a diving interception.

“Michael is a veteran player that’s played a lot of football. He does a lot more than you see on the stat sheet. He’s a great communicator, gets guys lined up. He’s a leader,” Elliott said.

Junior linebacker Cole Watts got into the Illinois State backfield on more than one occasion. Watts recorded three sacks and added a quarterback hurry against the Redbirds. The last Leatherneck to record two or more sacks in a game was Khalen Saunders, now with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs.

“Cole Watts showed a lot of physicality and some good pass rush. He was around the quarterback a couple other times,” Elliott said.

“Our guys were in our gaps, but we started getting sluggish (as game wore on against ISU),” Elliott said. “Our defensive players battled and we created two big takeaways in that first half. We were only to get three points on the board off of those. Those were game-changing plays our defense made,” Elliott said.

Offensive output

WIU’s offense struggled through much of the first half, getting only a 53-yard field goal by transfer kicker Mason Laramie.

The Leathernecks trailed 23-3 entering the fourth quarter. WIU scored two touchdowns and also converted a two-point try during its rally.

“I was very pleased that our guys battled back. They didn’t quit. We gave ourselves a chance all the way to the end and got it to a score. We’ll keep working to get better,” Elliott said.

Scouting Northern Iowa

Veteran head coach Mark Farley’s Panthers entered the spring ranked in the Top 5 nationally and were considered a threat for the Missouri Valley crown.

However, UNI has sputtered to a 2-3 record. The Panthers lost 13-6 at Missouri State last weekend. Northern Iowa has dropped two straight games.

Starting quarterback Will McElvain sat out the Missouri State loss because of COVID-19 protocols.

“Losing (McElvain) on a Friday morning was tougher to overcome than what I wanted to believe it (was),” Farley told The Cedar Falls Gazette. “Secondly as I look back on it, the continuity in our offensive line and our tight end play, that’s been a mixed bag this whole season. They’ve all done well, but there’s probably been too much of a change in players out there to get some rhythm going with them.”

Where to find the game

Northern Iowa (2-3) at Western Illinois (0-4) at 11 a.m. Saturday. The game is available on ESPN+ and the Leathernecks Radio Network (MIXLR).

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