WHO: Northern Iowa Panthers (0-1)
WHEN: Saturday, September 15
WHERE: Kinnick Stadium (Iowa City, IA)
KICKOFF: 6:30 PM Central
TV: BTN (check GameFinder for exact channel)
ONLINE: BTN2Go | Fox Sports Go
RADIO: Hawkeye Sports Network (check local listings); TuneIn
ODDS: Iowa -20
WEATHER: Partly cloudy, highs in the low-to-mid 80s, light winds
You'll be hard-pressed to find another college football game this year with two more tenured head coaches than this one -- Kirk Ferentz, of course, is the dean of FBS coaches, coaching his 20th season at Iowa. But Mark Farley isn't far behind him -- he's coaching his 17th season at UNI. That's 37 years combined at Iowa and UNI for Ferentz and Farley. The football programs on the eastern side of the state certainly appreciate stability and coaching longevity.
UNI also rarely gets blown out when punching up a weight against FBS competition. Over the last 10 years, they've lost by one at Iowa (17-16 in 2009), one at Iowa State (20-19 in 2011), five at Wisconsin (26-21 in 2012), 11 at Iowa (27-16 in 2012), eight at Iowa (31-23 in 2014), and three at Hawaii (27-24 in 2014). They also beat Iowa State in 2013 (28-20) and 2016 (25-20). Their only blowout losses in that stretch are at Iowa State in 2010 (27-0), 2015 (31-7), and 2017 (42-24). So we shouldn't be too surprised if this game is scrappier than we might want.
As you'd probably expect from a series between a power conference Division I team and an FCS team, this is a very lopsided series, historically. (Although UNI has had better luck against the other power conference team in Iowa -- they're 6-22-3 against ISU, including 3-5 in the last eight meetings.) Iowa holds a 16-1 advantage over UNI, with the only UNI win dating back to the teams' first meeting, way back in 1898, when UNI won 11-5. Of course, UNI wasn't even called UNI back then -- they were Iowa State Normal School -- so technically Iowa has never lost to UNI in football. After that loss in 1898 Iowa won the next five games in the series by a combined margin of 161-5. They won by a score of 95-0 (!) in 1914, which wound up being the teams' last encounter for over 80 years, until the series was resumed in 1995. Iowa has played UNI four times during Kirk Ferentz's tenure, winning all four, though not without some close calls (none closer than 2009's double blocked field goal extravaganza, of course).
THEIR SEASON RECAP
UNI has only played one game this year, dropping an odd 26-23 quasi-thriller at Montana in Week 1. I saw "quasi-thriller" because while the final score was close, the game was not for much of the proceedings; UNI fell behind 26-0 at halftime against Montana. They put together a 23-0 run in the second half, but couldn't get over the hump against the Grizzlies; they never got the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead in the second half, as their final touchdown came with 3:14 remaining and Montana was able to run the clock out after that.
NORTHERN IOWA OFFENSE
UNI's offense was a tale of two halves against Montana. In the first half, all eight (!) of their possessions ended in punts and six of them were three-and-outs. They gained a total of three first downs and 57 yards in that half. In the second half, half of UNI's six possessions ended in touchdowns, one ended in an interception, and two ended in punts. UNI scored three touchdowns and gained 211 yards in the second half. That said, their overall production was pretty pedestrian -- 268 total yards of offense (164 passing, 104 rushing) on 82 plays, "good" for an anemic 3.3 yards per play.
Returning starter Eli Dunne got the start in the game, but he was frankly terrible: 5/20 for 24 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. He got benched for Colton Howell, who came in and was more effective, though hardly spectacular -- 11/22, 140 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, to go along with 22 yards and a touchdown on the ground, too. Farley has been coy about who will start for UNI on Saturday and even hinted that both might play.
Trevor Allen and Marcus Weymiller split the load on the ground, although neither was hugely effective. Allen had 50 yards on 17 carries (2.9 ypc), while Weymiller (who led the team last year with 809 yards and 8 TD) had 35 yards on 15 carries (2.3 ypc) and a touchdown. Tight end Briley Moore was their top receiver, with five catches for 78 yards. Much like Iowa, their actual wide receivers haven't done much so far.
NORTHERN IOWA DEFENSE
Again, that tale of two halves thing. In the first half UNI's defense gave up three touchdowns and two field goals to Montana's offense. In the second half, they held them scoreless, forced them to punt five times, and turned them over on downs once. Montana had 75 yards in the second half after accumulating 273 yards in the first half.
Most of Montana's success against UNI's defense came through the air as well. Montana QB Dalton Sneed was 26/39 for 248 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions. The Grizz couldn't do much on the ground, though -- they had just 30 carries for 75 yards for the game. UNI returned only two starters in their back seven this season and, at least in Week 1, that seemed to be a problem as Sneed had his way with them -- or he did in the first half anyway. UNI's defense put the clamps on Montana in the second half.
MATCH-UP TO WATCH
I'm not sure there's a really killer match-up to hone in on for this game because UNI doesn't seem to have one position unit that's really outstanding. They're a mix of solid performers and question marks in most areas. So my answer here is the same as what I would offer for the next section, which is...
WHAT WE WANT TO SEE
Get the passing game on track, Iowa. Obviously, the most important thing is to get a win in this game -- a loss in this game would be a huge setback ahead of next week's titanic throwdown with Wisconsin and for the season overall. So, yes, just make sure you get the win, even if it has to be a bit ugly. But that aside, we could really use some good mojo in the passing game. There have been a few good plays between Stanley and his receiving options through the first two games, but there have been a lot more misfires. Based on their showing against Montana, UNI's secondary isn't the stiffest, so this should be a game where Stanley can find a bit of a rhythm with Noah Fant, T.J. Hockenson, and maybe even a few receivers, too! The difficulty level is going to ramp up considerably against Wisconsin, so it's not like success against UNI will ensure any kind of success against the Badgers, but I think everyone involved -- the players, the coaches, and the fans -- would get a confidence boost from seeing a functional passing game.
As noted, UNI has put up a very good fight in most of their games against FBS opponents over the last decade. They rarely get blown out. And yet... this isn't striking me as one of UNI's best teams over that span and I think this Iowa defense might be the stingiest one they've faced in that stretch. I think they're going to struggle to move the ball and score points on Saturday night. The question becomes how many points Iowa can score themselves. I hope to see better offensive output than this, but for now I'm going to say... IOWA 27, UNI 10