CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa quarterback Eli Dunne enters his senior season with a career record of 10-7. After starting the final four games of the 2016 season, the Grinnell native led the Panthers to an 8-5 record and FCS quarterfinals appearance in 2017.
The big-bodied, big-armed QB acknowledged the tremendous expectations he’ll be facing this fall, especially now that he enters year two with offensive coordinator John Bond.
“Right now with the same coaches, same offense, and a lot of the same guys coming back there’s just a level of comfort, I know, with guys,” Dunne said. “We can kind of extend what we want to do. We can make more calls. Make things a little more complex because we know the offense. There’s just a level of confidence that I’ve noticed in spring ball, even this summer, in what we’re doing. I think that’s going to carry over. I’m really comfortable these first couple games we’re going into.”
Bond’s offense revived the Panthers’ passing game in 2017, totaling 3,063 yards, UNI’s most since 2007. After a successful spring and summer, Bond is anticipating another leap forward.
“Every place I’ve been there’s been a pretty significant jump in year two,” Bond said. “Last year, all the coaches, everybody was new. New terminology. So there’s that feeling-out process that happens. I feel good about where we are right now. If we can make improvements year two at Northern Iowa like other places I’ve been I feel like we’ll be in good shape.”
Another element, besides familiarity with Bond’s offense, that’s working in the Panthers’ favor heading into the season is Dunne’s offseason work. By his own admission, there were too many instances last season where his legs could have done more for him to make a play and keep drives alive. Eight months removed from his last game, Dunne spent much of that time focused on improving his agility and quickness.
“I’ve noticed these past couple weeks my legs feel a lot stronger, strongest they’ve been,” Dunne said. “Right now, from a physical standpoint, this is the best I’ve ever felt. A lot quicker and faster. This offseason with the training I’ve done I feel like I can make plays that I didn’t last year.”
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Bond realizes there will always be limitations when it comes to his quarterback running the football, but Dunne putting in the work to cultivate enough skill to make just one or two plays per game with his feet will keep defenses honest and hopefully extend one or two more drives per game. Combine Dunne’s commitment this offseason with his first full season of experience in 2017 and Bond is confident the Panthers have the caliber of quarterback required to win in today’s era of college football.
“I told (Eli) last year, ‘look, Peyton Manning was in his 18th season, arguably top two or three quarterbacks ever and he threw four (interceptions) in a game twice in his 18th season. Part of the deal. It’s football.’ But, you got to go through all of that. You’ve got to have a heck of a quarterback in today’s football to be able to win.
“Anytime you win a conference championship you’ve got to have a minimum talent level in order to do that. And I believe we have that.”