CEDAR FALLS — After seeing his defense pitch nine quarters of shutout football, most recently in a 33-0 rout of Indiana State, Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley is hoping for that trend to continue.
Considering No. 1 North Dakota State is next on the schedule for the 22nd-ranked Panthers at 1 p.m. Saturday (NBCS Chicago), it’s not hard to understand why the 18th-year head coach remains focused on that side of the football.
“(The defense) has evolved since that open date (Sept. 8),” Farley said. “We’ve (gotten) turnovers when we’ve needed them and have been fairly consistent the last two games. There’s a lot of work to do. We’re not nearly ready for North Dakota State with this group yet. But they made progress from Hampton to Indiana State.”
With four games under its belt, UNI (2-2, 1-0 MVFC) has begun to settle on defensive personnel, which could pay dividends as the undefeated Bison (4-0, 1-0) invade the UNI-Dome on Saturday.
“I think when we moved Korby (Sander) to nickel (linebacker) and moved some defensive linemen around inside, not big moves but those were a little bit more methodical moves, but putting Korby at the (nickel), A.J. (Allen) at the rover and then (Jevon) Brekke playing the free safety I think has made us more consistent in our play,” Farley said. “Their talents fit their position better for what they’re doing.”
Time of possession is usually a large part of having success against the Bison. NDSU is consistently among the top five in the FCS in controlling the football on offense and consequently keeping its high-powered defense fresh. On the heels of a 265-yard rushing performance against Indiana State, Farley is aware that controlling the football can go a long ways toward his team’s chances to be successful against the FCS’ No. 1 team.
“I felt good (about the run game) at Indiana State after the game was over, “Farley said. “During the situation you don’t know what that control is or if it’s going to happen again. I think each game will play out differently. Granted, you’d love to have time of possession in your favor. It’s one of those things you have to deal with (against NDSU) and that’s why time of possession for your offense is critical so you’re not out there on defense all day long.”
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Besides the continuity that’s developed over the past couple games on defense, the Panthers have benefited from having the same five starters along the offensive line for all four games this season. While the unit’s pass protection has been steady throughout, its run-blocking took a big step forward in last Thursday’s win over the Sycamores.
“I’m very pleased with the progress and the people we have on the offensive line,” Farley said. “I see good habits in our O-line and I see consistent footwork. I see the consistency, but I see the communication as better and the speed of play as better.”
North Dakota State is coming off of a hotly-contested rivalry game with South Dakota State this past Saturday — the Bison defeated SDSU 21-17 — and the Panthers stand to benefit specifically from injury recovery, Farley said, with eight days between games.
Kickoff of Saturday’s tilt between the Panthers and Bison is at 1 p.m. (KCRG/NBCS Chicago/ESPN+