Win over Iowa State was great, but UNI seeks to focus now on tough Montana

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CEDAR FALLS — He pondered the question for a little while. Looked to the sky for an answer and everything.

Mark Farley was asked Monday what his biggest concern was for his Northern Iowa football team.

“My number one concern this week is to able to come off last week with the same kind of prep, with the same kind of focus, and the same kind of resiliency in a game that we had last week,” Farley finally answered. “If we can do that back to back ... That will be a great challenge, because of the youth of our team, the excitement of our team, yet it’s the challenge of our team. Will they be as excited to prepare for this game as they were for the last game?”

Ah, yes. The dreaded potential trap game.

The Panthers beat Iowa State, 25-20, last Saturday night. Their third win over their big FBS brother to the west moved them to third in the latest FCS rankings.

But with No. 14 Montana on tap Saturday afternoon in the home opener at the UNI-Dome, there is no time to continuing whooping it up. None.

“It was a fun day on Saturday. I thought we played well,” Farley said. “I was very pleased with our football team, just the whole dynamic of it. How that game came together for us. But now it’s time to move on and get ready for Montana, because Montana is very good. Every game is very important to us, and this is the one that matters right now.”

The biggest question surrounding UNI going into the Iowa State game was its inexperienced defense, though those boys were plenty good, holding dynamic running back Mike Warren to 30 yards rushing and forcing three telltale turnovers in the fourth quarter. The challenge now is to deal with a Montana offense that is Usain Bolt-like in its pace.

The Grizzlies ran 86 plays last week in a 41-31 season-opening win over Saint Francis (Pa.), racking up 520 yards. Quarterback Brady Gustafson accounted for five touchdowns: three passing and two rushing.

A defense that includes receiver-turned-cornerback Charles Brown and redshirt freshman end Hezekiah Applegate as newbie starters will be under fire.

“They hurry, want to get 90 snaps a game,” Farley said. “They had the most snaps in FCS football last year per game because they get right to the line of scrimmage and go again. They’re very quick tempo, uptempo. A lot of the no huddles that we’re getting used to it have a gradual pace to them. They speed up at times. This one is in high gear all the time. It’s going to be snap, tackle, snap, tackle all night long.”

“(The key) will definitely be communication,” said Applegate, who was terrific against ISU with 2.5 tackles for loss. “Making sure everyone is on the same page. Even if it’s maybe not the best play call, if we’re on the same page, we can make a play. As long as we’re on the same page. Another thing, too, is if you make a mistake on one play, don’t let it hold you back. Because before you know it, the next play is going. If you have an awesome play, awesome. But move on to the next play because the more important play is the next play.”

Farley lauded the unselfishness of Brown, who was his team’s second-leading pass catcher last season, for the willingness to help out the secondary. The senior from Fort Myers, Fla., had a crucial fourth-quarter interception and return that led to UNI’s winning touchdown.

“He was a wide receiver on Monday morning last week, and a cornerback on Monday night,” he said.

He also complimented junior running back J’Veyon Browning, who saw his first significant snaps and scored the winning TD after subbing for starter Tyvis Hill and backup Michael Malloy.

“It was an amazing feeling,” Browning said. “It was great to be able to contribute to the team and help us get a win. It was just a blessing. I was tuned in the whole game, looking at every adjustment, every play call. I was ready to go in at any point.”

Now will UNI be ready to go Saturday? Kickoff is 4 p.m., with the game being available on KCRG 9.2.

“That was a great game for us to win,” UNI defensive end Karter Schult said of Iowa State. “Me being an experienced guy, I know that after Sunday, it doesn’t matter anymore to us. It’s great, it’s in the win column, but we’ve got to look forward to this Saturday. If you don’t do that, you’ll get rolled. I think we’ll do a good job of making sure the team is focused on Montana.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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