CEDAR FALLS — It’s likely that for the second time in the past three seasons Northern Iowa will not be part of the 24-team FCS Playoff field.
The Panthers have three wins against ranked opponents, but Saturday’s 31-10 loss to unranked Youngstown State puts their fate squarely in the hands of the playoff committee. UNI (5-5, 4-3) coach Mark Farley said Monday that the committee should always have five-loss Missouri Valley Football Conference teams as part of its discussion.
“A 6-5 team should have a shot to get to the playoffs by going through this league,” Farley said of the MVFC. “You’ve got North Dakota State in the league. We’ve played Iowa on top of that. Now you start to look at the rest of your FCS schedule which is more equal. And again, we’re at Montana, in that situation. Sometimes it isn’t always fair. But it’s the way it’s been (and) it’s the way it’s going to be.”
Two weeks ago, after a 37-17 loss to Western Illinois, poor tackling and a lack of depth were mentioned by Farley as culprits for a poor defensive performance. Coming off Saturday’s loss, Farley said Monday that errors and a couple early ankle injuries were at the center of the defensive struggles.
“(Injuries) really took some things out of (our) defensive structure that we could do,” Farley said. “And it limits you with what those (substitutes) were prepared to do. Same thing happened at Western (Illinois), we had a couple ankle (injuries) there and Blake (Thomas) was out that particular game too. The guys that are going in are doing good, it just takes some of (our) defenses away when we make that next transition into that next tier of players.”
UNI’s offense totaled 192 yards on 57 plays and Eli Dunne completed 8 of 22 passes for 73 yards against the Penguins (4-6, 3-4). Despite those ugly numbers, the Panthers still had opportunities. High snaps sailed over Marcus Weymiller and Dunne twice on YSU’s 1-yard line. Add a Weymiller fumble at UNI’s 5-yard line and it was too much to overcome.
“Never got the passing game going. (That) was, I think, the (most) critical part of it,” Farley said. “The three plays inside the 5-yard line were the two missed snaps and the fumble, and there’s 21 points right there when you look at that. There’s 21 points without the passing game.”
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The Panthers will end their regular season at home against Missouri State (4-6, 2-5) this Saturday at 4 p.m. The Bears are coming off a 59-7 loss to No. 1 North Dakota State, but defeated Illinois State 24-21 on Sept. 29, when the Redbirds were ranked No. 9.
“They’ve had some really super games. They’ve looked really dangerous and then they’ve struggled in games,” Farley said. “They’ve gotten better each year that (Coach Dave Steckel) has been down there.”
Junior tight end Briley Moore was immobilized and removed from the field on a stretcher during the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game after suffering a stinger. Farley said Monday that Moore flew back to Waterloo late Sunday night after staying in Youngstown, Ohio, for additional testing.
“(Briley’s) back on campus. He’s doing well,” Farley said. “Everything appears to be good.”
Farley ruled Moore (stinger) and defensive back Xavior Williams (ankle) as doubtful for Saturday’s game against Missouri State.