UNI Panthers

UNI offense continues to make progress as defense searches for consistency

Panthers gave No. 1 North Dakota State a test for 3 1/2 quarters

Northern Iowa Panthers tight end Briley Moore (86) runs to the end zone on a 64-yard touchdown reception during the first quarter of their Missouri Valley Football Conference game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Northern Iowa Panthers tight end Briley Moore (86) runs to the end zone on a 64-yard touchdown reception during the first quarter of their Missouri Valley Football Conference game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — After leading No. 1 North Dakota State 14-0 early and 31-28 headed into the fourth quarter Saturday, Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley is confident in what his team will have to offer opponents in its last six Missouri Valley Football Conference games.

Saturday’s 56-31 final score wasn’t indicative of the challenge UNI gave the Bison on Saturday. Quarterback Eli Dunne said after the game that there are positives to take out of the performance against the FCS’ No. 1-ranked team. On Monday, Farley echoed his quarterback’s comments, giving high praise to an offense that scored more points against the Bison than they’d given up since their only loss of 2017 against South Dakota State on Nov. 4 (33).

“When you go back and watch the tape, our offense played very, very well,” Farley said. “That was a heck of a football game against a heck of a football team. Where it gets perceived and moved is, when you look at the final score, we did some things at the end to try and win the game. Six minutes to go you’re looking at 35-31 and it was an all-out brawl.”

Farley wouldn’t go as far to say there was a silver lining to Saturday’s loss — “that’s probably for other people to judge and us to prove,” he said. However, the 18th-year head coach did assess each phase of his team through five of its 11 games.

“I think offensively (we’ve) progressed every week,” Farley said. “I think defensively, inconsistencies. And I think special teams has progressed every week.”

Despite its defense entering Saturday’s game against NDSU having not allowed points in nine quarters, the inconsistent description holds true. The Panthers defense gave up 26 first-half points in a week 1 loss to Montana, then were shelled by Iowa, 38-14, before going on to post nine consecutive quarters of shutout defense.

Personnel has changed throughout, but less so recently. Meanwhile, Farley made it a point on Monday to once again point out the lack of experience.

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“I (said) from the beginning there’s inexperience on defense,” Farley said. “I said it in spring, I said it in (fall) camp. You got a freshman starting at safety. You got a redshirt freshman starting at the will linebacker. I’ve had to move around the other safety because of injuries to get the other one fit. When you have those kind of dynamics, we’re trying to get the consistency you need.”

With a 2-3 record and six conference games remaining, the Panthers have their work cut out to keep themselves in the playoff hunt. For the fourth time in six games UNI will go on the road this Saturday to Vermillion, S.D., to take on South Dakota (3-2, 2-0).

“They have a new defensive coordinator,” Farley said. So they’re doing some (new) things on defense. Offensively, they’re still always strong. They always have a good plan and they always play well at home. They seem to be scoring points on everybody they play.”

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