CEDAR FALLS, Iowa - Northern Iowa's football team can see the finish line.
Just how fast the Panthers are getting there isn't a subject that's necessarily easy to tackle.
With the annual spring game less than one week away, the Panthers scrimmaged in the UNI-Dome Saturday. The focus fell on the two-minute, no-huddle game - specifically preparing the defense for attacks that use an up-tempo style.
At the end of the 1 hour and 15 minute scrimmage, UNI head coach Mark Farley was asked if the Panthers were ahead of the pace set by last year's team in spring ball.
"I wouldn't say we're ahead of anything," said Farley.
The UNI head coach did say his 2013 squad is getting a good look at what it will see next fall.
"They're experiencing more of game situations," Farley added.
"The intention is they will be able to understand down and distance, field position and no huddle and timings and tempos - those factors that change the game. You've gotta sense those to really understand it."
Part of understanding is getting a grasp on the physical demands of football. To that end, Saturday's scrimmage with the emphasis on a fast tempo advanced the learning curve.
Said Farley, "We'll watch the film (but) what I took from it is they know now the kind of condition you have to be in because the wear and tear is much more on the physical side of it when you go no-huddle. The repetitions come so much faster from play to play."
Unlike last Saturday's scrimmage, where several veterans played sparingly or not at all, the familiar names got plenty of snaps.
Quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen played extensively, as did running back David Johnson plus wideouts such as Chad Owens and Phil Wright. Kollmorgen and Wright, for instance, hooked up for a touchdown on a fade route.
Some of the newer Panthers also enjoyed a bright moment or two.
Junior college transfer Tate Omli, for instance, intercepted a pass for the second consecutive Saturday. While Farley is more interested in team progess than individuals, Omli's effort caught the coach's eye.
"What I see, just from a distance, is you look for who's making those kind of difference-making plays," said Farley. "That's two weeks in a row he's made two big plays and (safety) Deiondre' Hall made a play today that was pretty good as well.
"Those things show up just because they're kind of like 'wow' plays. We'll see them when we watch the film (but) I'm looking at the units to try and improve the units."
Griffin Gaeta, a redshirt freshman next fall, made a one-handed leaping grab of a Stephen Kaiser pass. A former Muscatine standout, Gaeta is playing tight end this spring after a look at defensive end.
"Griffin Gaeta is very athletic," said Farley.
He added, "He did a nice job, so we'll leave him at tight end now."
UNI did suffer one casualty Saturday when offensive lineman Ben Wallace was injured. That injury may alter the plans for UNI's next two practices, said Farley.
Then comes Friday's 6:30 p.m. spring game and the end of a long course.
"That spring game is kind of like a part," said Farley with a smile.
He also said, "All those workouts, all those things you did all winter - it's over and it's time to go to the next phase, which is finals and summer workouts."