Iowa Football

Iowa football: 5 things to know about Northern Iowa

Mark Farley is UNI football

Northern Iowa head football coach Mark Farley watches an open practice at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls on Saturday, April 15, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Northern Iowa head football coach Mark Farley watches an open practice at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls on Saturday, April 15, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Week 3 brings Week 2 of state rivalries to Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

The Iowa football team is off to a 2-0 start after Saturday’s 13-3 win over Iowa State and clutched the Cy-Hawk Trophy for the fourth year in a row.

There’s no trophy on the line Saturday when the Hawkeyes entertain Northern Iowa, year-in and year-out one of the top FCS teams in the country. UNI lost its opener at Montana, 26-23, and has had two weeks to prepare for the Hawkeyes. Iowa has dominated this series with its “little brother” — it has won 16 straight — but there have been some exciting and memorable games.

Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m.

Like the Cyclones, the Panthers are well known around these parts. But here are “5 Things” about the team and Saturday’s game.

1. Farley factor

After 17 years as the Panthers’ head coach, it’s safe to say Mark Farley IS Northern Iowa football.

He was the “walk-on from Waukon” during his playing days with the Panthers, giving up a job hauling tires to give football a chance in Cedar Falls. He ended up a two-time honorable mention All-American and the conference’s co-Defensive Player of the Year. He led the team in tackles three years in a row.

As a coach, he worked under Darrell Mudra, Earl Bruce and Terry Allen at UNI. He went to Kansas with Allen — and most of the Panther staff — in 1997, then returned in 2001 to lead the program.

“When I came (for the interview), I wanted to stop back (in the UNI-Dome),” Farley said. “I came to the doors and I stood on that balcony on the concourse. I just wanted to get that energy from the Dome, because there’s still something about this place. I looked at the banners and remembered the players that were here. We can be proud of this university in football.”

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Farley brought that energy back immediately, in a much tougher Missouri Valley Football Conference. The league now boasts, among others, top-ranked North Dakota State, which has won six of the last seven national titles, and No. 3 South Dakota State.

Farley has won 142 games in his 17 years as head coach, an average of more than eight wins per season. He has guided the Panthers to 10 FCS playoff berths and is 13-9 in those games, including a national championship game in 2005. His teams have won 88 MFVC games and seven league titles.

This man bleeds purple. And he’s a good coach.

2. Under center

Who will lead UNI’s offense this week?

That question has been brewing since UNI lost to Montana in Week 1. After falling behind 26-0 at halftime, senior Colton Howell took over at quarterback and brought the Panthers within reach of an epic comeback victory. He completed 11 of 22 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown, and ran three times for 31 yards and a TD.

Eli Dunne, the starter who came into 2018 with a lot of hype and hope, struggled in the first half, completing just 5 of 20 for 24 yards and an interception.

“We’ll deal with that this week and put the best person on the football field who gives us the best chance to win,” Farley said Monday during his weekly news conference. “You may see both, you may see one. I don’t know what’s going to happen this week.”

3. The series

UNI has beaten the Hawkeyes only once in 17 games, and that was the first game in 1898. The score was 11-5.

But this series has provided some thrills in recent years, including Iowa’s 17-16 win in 2009 when it blocked two UNI field goal attempts in the final seconds to hold on. The Panthers lost 27-15 in 2012 and 31-23 in 2014.

There have been some blowouts, too. Iowa won 66-0 in 1997, 68-0 in 1900 and 95-0 in 1914. That had to be a long day.

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4. Playing up

UNI has never shied away from playing FBS teams. Farley likes the stiffer competition and, of course, there’s usually a pretty nice paycheck that goes with it.

UNI hasn’t had a ton of success against some of these programs, but rarely is it a cakewalk.

Under Farley, the Panthers have played BYU, Hawaii, Oklahoma State and Wisconsin, as well as Iowa and Iowa State. UNI lost to Hawaii, 27-24, in 2014 and put a scare into the Badgers in 2012, falling 26-21. And, the Panthers have beaten Iowa State three times in 10 games under Farley.

5. Pro Panthers

The most famous UNI football alum is Pro Football Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, the former Cedar Rapids Regis prep who guided the Panthers for one season.

But UNI has had several bona fide NFL stars, including current assistant Bryce Paup. An 11-year NFL veteran with Green Bay, Buffalo, Jacksonville and Minnesota, Paup earned defensive MVP honors in 1995 with the Bills.

The highest drafted UNI player is Brad Meester, who went in the second round to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2000. Meester played his entire career with the Jags (14 seasons), started 209 games and had a record 92 straight starts at one point. He retired in 2013.

Currently, there are four Panthers on NFL rosters, including Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson. All he’s done is rush for 1,239 yards in 2016 after gaining 581 the year before as a rookie. He played in just one game last season because of injury, but recently signed a three-year, $39 million contract. He rushed for 37 yards and a TD on Sunday and caught five passes for 30 yards.

l Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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