116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — On paper, it doesn’t get much better than Northern Iowa’s matchup against No. 4 Eastern Washington on Saturday.
The No. 25 Panthers — tied for first in the FCS in takeaways — face a first-round playoff opponent that operates one of the subdivision’s highest octane offenses and appropriately plays on a bright red “Inferno” turf field.
UNI has played on EWU’s red carpet before, in 2015. The two programs played a home-and-home series in 2015 and 2016 and split the games, each winning at home.
“It’s their image. It’s like our image is the Dome,” UNI football coach Mark Farley said. “I think it probably has as much to do with their image — whether it affects how you play on (it) I’m not sure. I do know all those (psychological) things play a part of any game right now.”
Adding to the intrigue of Saturday’s matchup is former UNI wide receivers coach Pat McCann coaching against his most recent colleagues.
McCann was the Panthers wide receivers coach from 2017-2018 and got the chance to call plays in three games during the 2018 season when then-offensive coordinator John Bond took a leave of absence to care for his ailing father.
Now, the Olympia, Wash., native is entering his fourth game as EWU’s interim offensive coordinator after Ian Shoemaker resigned Nov. 9.
“Everybody kind of buckled down and said, hey, all hands on deck,” McCann said of the transition. “It’s been a team effort, staff-wise.”
The Eagles’ dynamic offense got its first wave of recognition this week, raking in eight All-Big Sky honors. Senior quarterback Eric Barriere was among three Eagles named to the all-conference first team after throwing for 4,242 yards and 40 touchdowns. The Inglewood, Calif., native also was unanimously named offensive player of the year for the second consecutive season.
“I would be remiss not to say that he is incredibly humble and one of the most genuinely nice people that I’ve ever met, and that combined with incredible talent is kind of what makes him so special, honestly,” McCann said. “He’s just got an ability to make plays on-schedule and off-schedule.”
For different reasons than UNI’s, the Eagles’ selection on Sunday was drama-filled.
At 9-2 overall and 6-2 in conference play, EWU’s players, coaches and fans thought a national seed and first-round bye was possible, if not likely.
Once conference rival Montana State received the eighth and final seed, the Eagles knew they’d be playing Thanksgiving weekend. Then, when they knew their opponent, McCann had an instant reaction.
“First (reaction) was, ‘of course it would be (UNI),’” McCann said. “Just excited to be playing and then obviously getting a team like Northern Iowa, from a program standpoint, we were excited.”
Farley was highly complimentary when asked about McCann this week, saying he knew he’d become a play-caller and even joking that his familiarity with UNI’s offense could provoke some signal changes for Saturday’s game.
“Great family. Great person. Did a great job with our receivers,” Farley said. “I was texting with Pat early in the season. He knows my temperament of what I believe in, and he’s texting me back some of the things they’re doing, which was kind of what we were talking about when (he was) here. What we need to move toward or do with our offense, he said this is how they’re doing it out there.
“But, we had little idea that we were going to play each other.”
McCann returned the praise for the Panthers’ 21st-year head coach and also said he’s got too much on his plate for his former colleagues to worry about any sign stealing.
“At the end of the day, the football education for me all started with (Farley),” McCann said. “That’s just me being honest. I want to give credit where credit is due. I have the utmost respect for him. He’s the one who really pushed my development further than if I hadn’t gone (to UNI). I have a ton of respect for him and I have a ton of respect for his opinions on stuff. I value that relationship and the respect is mutual.”
UNI kicks off against Eastern Washington at Roos Field Saturday at 3 p.m. (ESPN+).