The big play against dooming Northern Iowa

Panthers play Saturday at Youngstown State

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CEDAR FALLS — Eliminating the opponent’s big play has got to be the way. Or else this football season will be under mayday.

The Northern Iowa Panthers lost to South Dakota this past Saturday, 28-25, despite having the football 16 more minutes and running 29 more offensive plays. UNI actually was outgained, which goes back to the above thing.

South Dakota scored touchdowns on a run of 69 yards and pass of 75. Another TD was set up by a 63-yard pass play.

That’s been a disturbing trend. UNI has allowed 17 touchdowns this season, 11 of them 29 yards or longer.

“Our inexperience or our inability to make those plays is costing us,” Northern Iowa Coach Mark Farley said Monday. “If you look at the numbers and watch the film, we make nine very good defensive plays, then we give up a big play. We gave up some big plays, too, against Southern Illinois. We’re giving up too many long plays that we’re not accustomed to (giving up). That’s part of understanding what your role is, what your job is, and the experience of getting that done. Knowing down and distance and those types of things.”

As Farley mentioned, the long-play issue even has crept into victories. Southern Illinois had touchdown pass plays of 33 and 50 yards in the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener two weeks ago.

The very first play of that game was a 48-yard pass completion over UNI’s defense. Northern Iowa overcame and won, 42-21.

It wasn’t so fortunate last week against South Dakota.

“We’re not doing all those things prior to the down, and that’s why we’re losing that down,” Farley said. “We might play good defense nine times, but then we give up the big play on the 10th. That’s been our achilles heel this season. It was special teams early, but now it’s the long pass.”

Cornerback Charles Brown was asked what the Panthers defense needs to do to rectify the situation.

“I feel like, myself, that a lot of it is on the corners,” Brown said. “We’ve just got to become better players, I guess. Be smarter about the game. I don’t know what else to say about that other than we’ve got to do our job.”

UNI’s Austin Errthum missed a 34-yard field goal in the fourth quarter last Saturday, which continued another troubling pattern. Errthum and Matt Easley have combined to go just 5 of 13 in field-goal attempts this season.

Errthum began the season as Northern Iowa’s kicker but was replaced by Easley the second game. Errthum resumed starting kicking duties against South Dakota, and Farley said Monday that Easley is no longer a member of the team. The only other kicker on the roster is red-shirt freshman Sam Drysdale, a former Cedar Rapids Prairie prep.

Farley said starting strong safey A.J. Allen suffered a broken finger against South Dakota but is not expected to miss any playing time. Backup defensive end Seth Thomas injured a knee and likely will miss significant time.

It’s back to the road for UNI this weekend as it plays Saturday night at Youngstown State (4-1). Kickoff is 6 p.m. (ESPN3).

Former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini has the Penguins off to a 2-0 MVFC start.

“Youngstown is very athletic,” Farley said. “It’s definitely a different football team than we’ve played in the past. Very good football players. Might be the best personnel group we’ve played this year.”

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