CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley was candid at his Monday news conference in assessment of both his team and his team’s next opponent.
After playing a dismal first half in Week 1 against Montana, then nearly coming back from a 26-0 halftime deficit, the 18th-year head coach liked what he saw from his team during bye week practices.
“I thought we had (a good week) — of course you always think you have a good week of practice — but we needed to improve last week and I felt we did,” Farley said. “You just never know until you take the field again.”
While things look better for the Panthers (0-1) heading into their second game, the opponent is likely to be the most formidable of the season. For the fifth time in his career, Farley will attempt to break his winless streak against Iowa, and he considers this particular Hawkeye team to be one of Kirk Ferentz’s best.
“Man, when you watch Iowa, particularly this last weekend, they were much better I thought this weekend than last weekend,” Farley said. “They’re defensive line is very good. They’ve always been very sound and then as I watch their offense, their running backs are very good. They’re back to that ‘Iowa’ stable of running backs. Probably what’s most concerning — I don’t know if it’s (more) concerning than it would be any other year — but their run game, we all know them as a run team. They’ve got the running backs to make plays. They wear on the teams that they’ve played.”
UNI’s passing game struggled mightily in its loss to Montana, but was sparked by a decision to go to backup quarterback Colton Howell in the second half. Junior receiver Aaron Graham, who’s been out for nearly three weeks with a hamstring injury, is questionable for Saturday’s tilt.
So, knowing Graham’s murky status and Howell’s ability to spark what had been a dormant offense, Farley still was noncommital when asked who the starting quarterback will be Saturday night.
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“Whether it’s quarterback or any other position, it’s just we magnify the quarterback position way too much, and it’s a competitive position that — you could play two quarterbacks, you could play three quarterbacks — we’re going to play different linebackers, different linemen and different running backs,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen this week.”
Farley doesn’t believe a sold-out Kinnick Stadium will shake his team.
“I’m sure the energy and that level will be there as normal, it may be even more ramped up for a night game down there,” Farley said. “I just know at Northern Iowa I think a little bit of an edge that we have of getting ready for a game like this that’s got 70,000 people; is that’s 70,000 people outside. Versus some of these places we play where you’re inside (and) it magnifies everything. So a 20,000 seat (indoor) could be louder than a 70,000 seat (outdoor) based off what’s going on in the football game.”