116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Despite heavy disruptions to roster this spring, steam sees plenty of exciting thing on field
CEDAR FALLS — While Northern Iowa ended its unprecedented spring season with a 23-20 loss to No. 2 North Dakota State (5-1) and 3-4 record, head coach Mark Farley says there’s good reason to be hopeful when his team returns to fall football in a little over four months.
“Really, by how we played on Saturday night,” Farley said. “You always want to measure yourself against good opponents, too. What makes you mad is you played very well, but you don’t have a win behind it. On the backside of it, you throw in who wasn’t on the field and all the things that we faced throughout the season and we still looked like that at the end of the season.”
What football in the fall looks like remains to be seen. Regular testing for COVID-19 wreaked havoc on UNI and nearly every other FCS roster this spring.
The Panthers’ spring season was so heavily disrupted by COVID-19 cases, contact traces and traditional football injuries that Farley revealed after Saturday’s loss that his team played despite 25 guys on their injured list.
A quick glance at UNI’s roster attrition shows five different offensive line combinations in its seven games, All-America wide receiver Isaiah Weston playing just four games with only seven receptions while battling multiple injuries. Without three of its regular defensive linemen this past week, freshman Hayden Amos was forced to flip to the defensive line from offense, just to have enough able bodies.
“The challenge this year for us was consistency for all reasons that were out of your control,” Farley said. “It makes you a better coach if you can take what you have and make something of it, instead of worrying about what you don’t have. I’d say the same thing for the players. I think that’s why other teams opted out. They didn’t take the time to create something for the players they had, because it was a lot easier to opt out, probably. I don’t even mean it in a bad way. There is a safety factor out there.”
Along with its injury troubles, UNI also saw offensive coordinator Ryan Mehaffey leave shortly before its season-opener to take a job with the Green Bay Packers.
After Saturday’s finale, starting quarterback Will McElvain — who missed two games himself due to COVID-19 protocols this spring — spoke about the challenge of learning a new offense on the fly.
“Just trying to learn a new system and translate it to the games, because you can practice all you want but you can’t ever replicate a game’s intensity,” McElvain said. “I think it was good just to have these eight games to get used to something new. We did a good job, it’s just a few plays here and there (could’ve) changed our whole record around.”
Summer conditioning is up next, but Farley says time away is more important than ever right now given the circumstances of FCS football.
Asked if he’s spoken to his team about getting vaccinated before returning for summer workouts, the 20th-year coach says there’s a lot of things to consider yet before sending a message to his team.
“To me, there’s a lot more there than football when you start talking vaccines. There’s a lot more people involved, because those are personal choices. They’re university policies. There’s a lot of things that will apply to this when that decision is going to be made,” Farley said. “There’s a lot there for other people that are probably a lot sharper than I am about that about what the right thing to do is.”