UNI hopes it won't be seeing red this week

Panthers face another high-octane offense in Eastern Washington, and on its red home field

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CEDAR FALLS — On Mark Farley’s to-do list this week is to make sure his Northern Iowa football team becomes more productive in the red zone.

The head coach would like to see a few more long, fade passes completed.

It’d be nice to have the placekicking situation become more stable.

And ...

“I’m going to go outside and paint our field red,” Farley quipped.

UNI leaves the state for the first time this season when it travels to Eastern Washington for a 6 p.m. game (Iowa time). It’s a matchup of FCS’s third and sixth-ranked teams.

If you’ve never seen a game at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash., you’ll need to adjust your eyes. The field is bright red, EWU’s main school color.

“It’s kind of like the pink locker room at Iowa,” Farley said. “If you let it be a factor in the game, it’s a factor in the game. If you don’t, it’s just a red field ... It’s just something that if you allow it to be a factor, it will be. It’s just a field. That’s the way I take it.”

Farley and the Panthers need to worry more about Eastern Washington’s dynamic passing attack. Eagles sophomore quarterback Gage Gubrud threw for 450 yards and four touchdowns in his team’s 50-44 overtime loss at five-time defending FCS champ North Dakota State.

He threw for 474 yards and five TDs two weeks ago as EWU shocked in-state FBS rival Washington State, 45-42. He also ran for a 30-yard score in that game.

Senior wide receiver Cooper Kupp is regarded as a possible high-round NFL draft pick next year, last year’s Walter Payton Award winner for most outstanding offensive player in FCS. He has a stunning 61 touchdowns in his career, including five in two games this season.

Make that one and a half games. He missed the second half of the NDSU game with a shoulder injury, and his status for Saturday’s game is unknown.

“Oh, it matters (if he plays). He’s good. He’s a difference maker,” Farley said. They play him at any one of the positions. There are four positions out there, and he could line up at any one of them. I think last week he had almost 200 yards receiving himself. Then when he left the game, things changed. It does, it changes everything. He is that dynamic of a player.”

Northern Iowa’s defense was a big question mark coming into this season, but the Panthers held Iowa State to 20 points in a five-point victory in the opener. It slowed Montana’s Usain Bolt-like speedy offense to a crawl last week in a tough 20-14 loss.

In both games, UNI’s offense has helped by keeping the football for extended periods. An inability to finish off drives (1 for 4 in the red zone) was the killer “They have some great players, had North Dakota State on the ropes,” Farley said of EWU. “It’s a very good system again, very similar to last week. Probably more dynamic than last week, a little bit more schematically. A better package than last week. Last week, it was the speed of play. This week, it is the scheme itself you have to try and take away. Our secondary will be tested again.”

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


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