CEDAR FALLS — If it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it.
That is the only page of Northern Iowa’s playoff success guide that Panther head coach Mark Farley will share.
Other than a few minor tweaks to prepare for Big South Conference runner-up Monmouth (9-2), don’t expect to see wholesale changes for No. 20 UNI Saturday at 4 p.m. in the UNI-Dome when the Panthers host the Hawks in a first-round FCS playoff game.
“Play who you are,” Farley said. “You can’t change who you are just because you are in the playoffs. You’ve got to play to who you are and play to your strength.”
The Panthers are also hoping to ride the wave of momentum they have created by closing the season 5-1 with three wins over FCS Top 10 opponents.
“There are times where every position group had to make a gut check and everyone rose to the challenge,” running back Marcus Weymiller said of UNI’s run to a second-place tie in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and an at-large berth into the playoffs.
“Credit all the guys. A lot of teams (when UNI was 2-3) might get negative and start pointing fingers, but I think we all banded together and I think that is a tribute to all the guys we have here and the character of those guys.”
Saturday’s game will be the first meeting between Monmouth and UNI, and it is the Panthers’ first game against an opponent from the Big South Conference, which includes Kennesaw State, Gardner-Webb, Liberty, Presbyterian and Charleston Southern. Monmouth, located in West Long Branch, N.J., has never played a team from the MVFC.
The Hawks are making their first FCS playoff appearance in their 25th season, all under head coach Kevin Callahan, the only coach in Monmouth history.
On the other hand, UNI is in for the 19th time and is 17-5 all-time inside the UNI-Dome in FCS playoff games. The Panthers are 13-9 in the playoffs under Farley.
The unfamiliarity of the Hawks is one of many reasons Farley is glad the Panthers are hosting.
“It is very important. One, it gives us another chance to play in the UNI-Dome,” Farley said. “Two, there is an element of being prepared because you get an extra day because you don’t have to travel and that is a factor when you get this deep into it.”
Like UNI, the Hawks had a resurgence in 2017 after a 4-7 season a year ago that saw them lose their final five games.
“A pretty good team. In the playoffs, you can’t underestimate anybody and they are here for a reason,” defensive tackle Adam Reth said.
Monmouth quarterback Kenji Bahar had thrown a touchdown pass in eight consecutive games until he was shut out a week ago by Kennesaw State. His favorite receiver is Reggie White Jr., who has caught 136 passes for 1,827 yards and 15 touchdowns the past two seasons.
Freshman running back Pete Guerriero adds a balanced dimension to the Hawks’ offense with 1,079 rushing yards and nine scores. The Hawks are prone to turnovers, having committed 18 in 11 games, including five in last week’s 52-21 loss at Kennesaw State.
Defensively, Monmouth is led by Buck Buchanan Award finalist Mike Basile, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound safety who has recorded 110 or more tackles three straight seasons and was a second-team All-American in 2016.
“They are going to play good, solid football,” Farley said. “We have to prepare and be better than we were a week ago.”
Farley said starting quarterback Eli Dunne should be good to go if he continues to improve from an upper body injury he suffered at Missouri State that forced him to miss the season finale against Indiana State.
Additionally, right tackle Bryce Sweeney returned to practice Monday after missing the game with the Sycamores and several other Panthers, including tight end Elias Nissen and safety A.J. Allen, have a chance to work their way back onto the field by Saturday.