CEDAR FALLS — There were no new formations, large-scale personnel adjustments, or other major changes that led to Northern Iowa’s defense leading the way to a 26-16 win over then-No. 14 Illinois State on Saturday.
The formula for a defensive rebound was fundamental, according to UNI head coach Mark Farley.
“When you have a group that is inexperienced, to play with that kind of temperment, you really have to do a great job in practice on the fundamentals,” Farley said. “So you’re allowed just to instinctively play come Saturday afternoon.”
With UNI’s playoff hopes hinging on a 2-0 finish to the regular season, Farley acknowledged Monday how critical defensive line depth and its down-by-down rotations have been.
“It helps to be playing six, seven guys instead of just three or four guys the whole game,” Farley said. “Right from the beginning we’re rotating very early upwards of six guys. It’s helpful and it’s paid off for us so far.”
Offensively, the Panthers may have had to settle for field goals on four of their six scoring drives, but offensive coordinator John Bond kept quarterback Eli Dunne in good position by leaning on Marcus Weymiller and the running game. Weymiller carried a season-high 30 times for 117 yards and a touchdown.
“Do not like (not) getting inside that end zone,” Farley said. “A lot of things we can learn from, but when you go back and look at it, the body of work was very good. Marcus got over 100 yards rushing. We had time management. We had time of possession. It really complemented the defense and the special teams with how effective they were.”
Headed into its final three games, it appeared the Panthers’ biggest hurdle would be this past Saturday’s tilt against Illinois State. However, despite entering week 10 last in the Missouri Valley Football Conference standings, Youngstown State — UNI’s next opponent — took No. 1 North Dakota State to the wire before losing 17-7.
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“You can’t gauge the team that you’re going to play based off of record in this league,” Farley said. “Coach (Bo) Pelini (has) always got a great defense. Deceptive is probably the best way to put (their offense).”
Farley updated the status of right guard Nick Ellis and inside linebacker Chris Kolarevic on Monday. They have been out with injury since weeks five and seven, respectively.
“I doubt you’ll see either of those guys back this season,” Farley said. “Unfortunate both ways because those are two starters for us.”
Farley explained Monday that Ellis is eligible for a non-medical redshirt having not appeared in more than four games, adding that Kolarevic would only regain his year of eligibility upon the approval of a medical redshirt.