CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa’s football team heads into its season opener against Montana having never won a game in Missoula, Mont. — and it didn’t take long for Coach Mark Farley to make mention of that fact at his first weekly press conference of 2018.
In fact, UNI has never beaten Montana in six tries, losing four times on the road, including 48-10 in 2011.
“We have not won (at Montana), so this is a challenging trip, and one for this football team (that) will be interesting to see how we handle the situation and how we play,” said Farley, who is starting his 18th season as UNI coach. “But, it’s football season now so it’s time to go.”
To make matters worse, the Grizzlies have a new/old coach in Bobby Hauck, who previously coached the team from 2003-2009. So, Farley isn’t sure what kind of offense and defense Montana is rolling out.
“You look at the personnel they had from last year, that’s really all you can tell from previous tape,” Farley said. “We did not exchange tape with (Montana) because they don’t have anything that is valuable, so we’re just going to look at personnel and try to figure that out.”
There’s another factor that every Grizzlies opponent has to deal with when visiting Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The venue holds 25,217 fans, and is typically packed. Montana is 59-10 on its home field over the last 10 years. With a 7 p.m. local (8 p.m. Iowa) kickoff, what’s always one of the FCS’ best environments could be heightened another notch.
“(Washington-Grizzly Stadium) is one of the top-five places to play FCS football,” Farley said. “(Hauck) is Montana football. So, what you will see is a very high-energy team, I’m sure. A very high-energy stadium. It’s a night game on top of that so I expect the best from Montana just because it’s the first game, but yet it’s Coach Hauck’s first game back. I expect it to be a huge challenge and (Coach Hauck) is a part of that challenge.”
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With an offense that returns nine starters, the concern for pre-snap communication and not letting an adverse moment snowball is heightened.
The same cannot be side on the other side of the ball, where the Panthers feature at least six new starters on defense. UNI’s defense features a lot of “assignment football” schemes, but Farley acknowledged Monday that adjustments will be key throughout the first quarter and half.
“A big key to this game will probably be how we adapt, particularly in the first quarter,” Farley said. “To see what they’re going to do and try to dissect their plan a little bit so we can get people in the right place.”
Despite the concerns Farley and his staff have headed into a hostile environment, the 18th-year head coach made one thing most clear on Monday — he feels very confident about starting quarterback Eli Dunne headed into the season opener.
“Eli is as good as he’s been here,” Farley said. “That’s probably the most confident question I’ve answered for you today. He’s where he needs to be. We need to protect (him) and let him play. He’s probably as confident as he’s been because of the system that he’s in and what he’s shown in (fall) camp.”