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CEDAR FALLS - Northern Iowa football coach Mark Farley has said publicly and told his team numerous times they're not going to beat COVID-19.
Knowing that, Farley - who earned his 100th career Missouri Valley Football Conference win this past Saturday in the 21-0 victory at Youngstown State - preached leading up to this spring season that being able to adjust when adversity struck could make or break a team's season.
So, with three of their starting offensive linemen out of Saturday's game against the Penguins due to health and safety protocols, the Panthers remade their offensive line last week. They ultimately inserted three new starters while having a completely different alignment from left tackle to right tackle.
'There's no question that was a difference (in the game),” Farley said. 'I think watching other (teams) go through this back in the fall really made you prepare in a way that should these things happen that the next guy is ready.”
The adjustments worked so well that a week after rushing for only 28 yards in its season-opener, the Panthers racked up 191 against YSU while quarterback Will McElvain was not sacked in 30 pass attempts.
One of the more compelling elements of UNI's offensive line remake was walk-on sophomore Chase Arends getting his first career start at center. The former Dike-New Hartford prep's performance was good enough to earn him the MVFC's offensive lineman of the week award.
'What he did in that particular game - at the beginning of the week there was no way that he was planned to be the starter in that particular game - but by the end of the week he takes 70-plus snaps as a starting center and really did a nice job,” Farley said. 'Chase's mental prep has always been consistent since the day he got here. He prepares as a starter and when he did get his start he made the most of his opportunity and played very well.”
UNI's roster turmoil wasn't the only source of drama in its shutout win over YSU. Late in the first half, McElvain completed a 26-yard pass to Quan Hampton, who took a violent fall to the ground after Penguins director of player personnel Tim Johnson failed to move out of the way on the sideline and instead turned his shoulder, striking the junior receiver.
The encounter quickly gained traction on social media, leaving UNI fans upset and football fans across social media bewildered.
Johnson did not return to the YSU sideline in the second half and on Monday the university released an apology from the first-year coach while announcing he would not be permitted on the sideline the rest of the season.
'They took action. That was the key,” Farley said. 'I don't think they hesitated at all in that decision of at least some type of ramifications, consequences for that action. It was what you saw. It was what I saw. I did get a clean look at what happened and it was theirs to make a decision on and some type of action and they did.
'Outside the lines it's assumed that we'll all take the safety of the player to heart and I think through the consequences of this that Youngstown has done that.”