CEDAR FALLS — When this season started, the Northern Iowa football team knew it had uncertain potential. With so many people stepping into new roles and not a ton of experienced depth because of departures, there was almost no margin for error.
Six games into the season, the Panthers (2-4, 0-3 Missouri Valley Football Conference) have played in that margin far more often than they’d like.
Not only have there been mistakes, penalties and turnovers to thwart some solid performances, the injury report is growing. And growing.
Coach Mark Farley won’t use it as an excuse, but it is a major factor, especially when it’s been hard work to get the first unit comfortable in a new system.
“The injury report, it’s fairly long. There’s a lot of guys on it. How many guys we get back, I don’t know,” Farley said. “We can’t use that as a way out, because the next guy’s got to get ready to go. It may lead to some of the inconsistencies we’re having right now at some of the positions, because of what’s transpiring. But we have to pick up the pace right now.
“Those guys coming in have to sustain what’s going on, or even enhance it, and we’re not doing that. That trickles right into special teams, too. We have to find a way in that consistency phase of it and find those other seven to 10 points.”
In last Saturday’s game alone, the Panthers suffered injuries to quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen, running back Darrian Miller, tight end Braden Lehman, linebacker Jared Farley and cornerback Edwin Young.
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Before that, cornerback Deiondre Hall suffered a hand injury that has forced him to play with a cast on his right hand — which should be removed for Saturday’s game at South Dakota State — wide receiver Logan Cunningham has dealt with a shoulder injury that has sidelined him multiple times, defensive backs Jordan Webb and Joe Feldpausch are out for an extended period and quarterback/wide receiver Dalton Demos was injured in practice a few weeks ago and hasn’t been seen on the sideline since.
That’s at least nine starters who are missing or have missed time because of injuries. Farley was vague about who will or might be available for the game at the No. 6 Jackrabbits — whether because he wants to avoid any revelations that might help SDSU prepare or because he’s unsure wasn’t clear.
“I’ll know better by Wednesday for three of them, and I’ll probably have to wait until Saturday for one of them to see if they can play,” Farley said. “From the report I saw Sunday and Monday and what I anticipate happening the rest of the week, I think they all might be possible, but I wouldn’t call them probable yet. They’re in the phase where I still won’t know until I get into Wednesday and Thursday.
“They’ll be limited in practice, which makes them limited with what they (can do). It hurts when you don’t practice. Some of those guys we (don’t just) got to get them on the field, we need to get them healthy.”
The most vague Farley was — and had to be — was regarding Kollmorgen, who started against Western Illinois and went 12 of 25 for 94 yards and an interception, but was not allowed to play the second half.
There was no clear play where the senior appeared to be injured, but Farley hinted at another possible concussion. Where that leaves a player who’s suffered several throughout his career is uncertain. Farley was unable to go into any detail, citing HIPPA laws. An update could come later in the week.
“I’m not allowed to say some things, or I’d just tell you flat out. Nowadays you can’t say some things about injuries, but he did get injured and was not allowed to come back in the second half,” Farley said. “I’m not hiding anything, I just can’t do some things because of the privacy act and all the stuff going on. We’ve got to be careful about that. It’s nothing that hasn’t happened before, so it’s nothing out of the ordinary.
“(When he’ll come back is) yet to be seen, too. You’ve got to go through all the protocols and everything with that as well.”
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The Panthers are in a spot now where even if there are injuries galore, those who do see the field aren’t avoiding the dreaded peaks and valleys Farley so dislikes.
He sees what the fans see, and wants as badly as they all do to correct them. It is and will be an uphill battle with the situation they find themselves in.
“What I see on film and what everybody sees, I believe, is there’s inconsistencies on offense, which leaves the defense on the field too long. And then we’re not overcoming it with special teams,” Farley said. “It was tough losing in the Dome, because that’s the advantage we have. Not taking advantage of that makes that difficult. Other than that, you’ve got to find a way to create points on special teams. Offense has to do a better job scoring points and defense still — we’ve got the turnovers; we did some things that way, but we still can do more.”
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