CEDAR FALLS – Thirteen minutes and change — 795 seconds — defines Northern Iowa’s football season in three games.
Last Saturday, the Panthers trailed No. 7 Sacramento State 27-21 with 10:04 left. Backed to their own 14, the Hornets ran on eight consecutive plays and gained 67 yards. After their drive stalled at the UNI 20, Hornets kicker Kyle Centkowski launched a 38-yarder — his third of the game — to put Sac State up 30-21.
But, beyond the three points, the Hornets burned 6:24 off the clock and trailed UNI with 3:33 left in a last-ditch comeback effort.
Trailing 29-27 last Saturday, the Panthers allowed the North Dakota Fighting Falcons to burn just over six minutes on the clock.
On one play, a 72-yard drive that took 11 seconds saw UNI’s offense — Tommy Schuster, UNI transfer Tyler Hosman — and UND’s offense take the field and switch over. A pair of third downs.
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The Panthers offense didn’t get a chance to scratch the score in the process, following up on a 72-yard touchdown connection between Theo Day and Dion McShane.
That 13 minutes and 15 seconds saw UNI go from 2-1 to 0-3. A fact UNI head coach Mark Farley pointed out to his team and during Monday’s press conference.
“We were 2-1 with 12 minutes to go,” Farley said. “There’s seven minutes left in the fourth quarter and you’re down by six… you’re down two points at North Dakota and you’re five minutes in… you’re down 12 minutes – guys – you haven’t played well in two games. In and being 2-1. Then you’re on top of the world.”
Missed turnovers, turnovers and a lack of composure at various points in both games against FCS opponents have resulted in UNI’s inability to reverse the season’s script, according to Farley. But Farley went ahead and said that if 795 seconds had gone differently, all of their cases would have been solved.
“We can make it big or we can wash away the fact that you’ve missed two games by 12 minutes,” Farley said. We weren’t playing as well as we could have hoped.
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Misses during game-winning drives by both Sac State and North Dakota highlighted UNI’s struggles. That’s evident in the Panthers’ run defense, which has allowed 295.7 yards per game and is third-to-last — 121st in the FCS — through three games.
Take away the 582 yards allowed against Air Force, the top rushing total in the nation, and UNI’s number improves to just 152.5 yards per game. While a tremendous improvement, it still ranks in the bottom half of the FCS—sandwiched between Pirie View A&M and Incarnate Word at 63rd overall.
In fact, the Panthers’ defense, ranked in the top 20 rushing defense and showing improvement over the past three seasons, paints an impressive picture of a renaissance.
Unlike those early defenses, as the Panthers are now, Farley doesn’t see a desperate face or a symbolic commitment to solving UNI’s problems on defense.
“We’re not going to change a lot of things,” Farley said. “We are not going to go out and fight. I’ve heard of these coaches being out all week… I can’t believe you’re going to fix it like that.
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According to Farley, the Panthers will fix their issues not on the practice field, but with ‘the right attitude between the ears.’
“Tell them the truth and they’ll know how to fix it,” Farley said. “If we go out and try to put some words on the wall or say, ‘We have to be better.’ Well, of course, it is very obvious, but to solve it better… not exercises. It’s what you do all week, it’s what we do today, it’s what you do tonight, it’s your mindset that determines how you play.
Farley went on to say that the physical side of the game was not his team’s issue, but the mental side that caused the first three games of controversy.
“The game is as important as the attitude,” Farley said. “Attitude…is the energy needed to finish, finish, overcome attachment. That special time comes to smoke a man… That’s how you have to play this game.
Once UNI fixes what’s between the ears, it will be time to get back to what has allowed them to stop opposing running games the past three seasons.
“With that attitude, if you don’t play with that edge, you’re not going to get the results you want,” Farley said. “You don’t need to practice. It’s the angle you take, but the attitude you end up with.”