CEDAR FALLS — The weekly game packet was handed out by Northern Iowa’s sports information staff prior to Monday’s media luncheon, with a quick reminder to take the two deeps with a grain of salt.
That also was one of the initial things head coach Mark Farley chose to point out as he took his turn to speak at the luncheon. Don’t take the depth chart too seriously.
A couple of hours later, UNI’s sports information staff posted the weekly game packet on its website. The two-deep roster had changed from the one the media originally had been given.
So exactly who is going to start, let alone play, in the Panthers’ opening football game of the season Saturday night at Iowa State (7 p.m./Cyclones.TV)? We’ll find out Saturday.
“Don’t trust too much of that two-deep. I don’t know if you ever do,” Farley said. “I just saw it, and I think that was taken by somebody watching practice. That wasn’t put together by us, that was put together by somebody watching practice. There will be some movement. Here’s the deal. I could put all this together, but no matter how I put it down, it would change by Saturday anyway because we’re going to play freshmen.”
Perhaps lots of freshmen.
“You’re looking at eight to 10 in the conversation, and I’d say five to eight of them as (possible) starters,” Farley said. “It’s kind of fun when you look at it that way. A little worrisome.”
The offense will be freshmen free except for the wide receiver position. Farley said Isaiah Weston, Jalen Rima and Christian Jegen all are in the mix with some upperclassmen for playing time opposite junior Daurice Fountain.
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He’s a given as a starter. Rima, by the way, is from Cedar Rapids Prairie and was The Gazette’s 2016 Male Athlete of the Year.
The defensive side of the ball is much more unsettled and could see a plethora of youngsters.
“Do I play them or not play them?” Farley said. “I believe we have to make the decision within the first three games. If you’re going to play them one play, it’s going to cost them the whole season. So if we’re going to play them, let’s get them involved right away.
“These players physically are capable of playing. Maturity wise, we’ll find out.”
Farley said sophomore Austin Errthum has a leg up (pun intended) on senior Matt Easley at the open kicker position. Errthum, from Mid-Prairie, is a lefty who began his collegiate athletics career as a soccer player at Drake.
The coach said he has been pleased with how the second half of fall camp has gone. He feels the Panthers will not be intimidated by playing a Big 12 Conference opponent on its home field, though the uncertainty of how Iowa State will play schematically under first-year coach Matt Campbell is a concern.
“We can anticipate what’s going to happen, but until you get into the game, the flow of the game, that’s what that first half is about. You have to come out and play well early, and you have to be able to adapt late,” Farley said. “They will be different on how they attack you offensively and defensively ... I do know this. Our people are (quarterback) Aaron Bailey, (defensive lineman) Karter Schult, (running back) Tyvis Smith and Daurice Fountain. Their people are their running back (Mike Warren), their receiver (Allen Lazard) and their quarterback (Joel Lanning). Those are their players. We’ve got some great players in certain positions, and I think they’ve got some good players in certain positions.”
Iowa State won last year’s game, 31-7. UNI’s last win over the Cyclones came in 2013, 28-20.
“We prepare the same way, it’s the same attitude going in,” Farley said. “We’ve played them enough where I don’t see it as any different than the other big games we play in or prepare for. The mindset is very similar. I just think maybe it’s more of a spotlight from people around the state.
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“You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low. There are going to be swings in the game. You’ve just got to be able to deal with it.”
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