CEDAR FALLS — A Sunday film session verified everything Northern Iowa head football coach Mark Farley believed directly following the Panthers’ 24-9 win over second-ranked South Dakota State on Saturday.
It was just as dominating performance on film as it was in person, according to Farley.
“It displayed that we really played well,” Farley said Monday. “There were some guys who stood out that I really felt made a difference in that game.”
On the defensive side, safety Korby Sander, linebacker Duncan Ferch and defensive lineman Elerson Smith drew strong praise from Farley for their aid in UNI holding the Jacks 39 points below their season scoring averaging and limiting SDSU to 51 rushing yards on 20 carries.
With that said, the Panthers quickly moved on to their next task a trip to Western Illinois this Saturday for a 1 p.m. game at Hanson Field in Macomb, Ill.
UNI’s back-to-back conference wins have vaulted it to a game clear of six teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference for second place with a 3-1 mark, while Illinois State, SDSU, Missouri State, South Dakota, Youngstown State and Western Illinois are all 2-2.
In addition to facing the Leathernecks (4-3 overall), the Panthers (4-3 overall) also have remaining games with Illinois State, Youngstown State and Missouri State and Farley says craziness of the MVFC is just getting started.
“I don’t think it is a surprise that it is a race,” Farley said. “I think a lot of things that are going to happen the next few weeks will be a surprise as well because at the end the only surprise will be if there isn’t a race to the end.
“You got to play football. Western is the No. 1 team on the docket right now that we are looking at.”
The Leathernecks opened the season with back-to-back losses at Montana State and at Illinois State, but then defeated Montana (31-27), a team UNI lost to in its season opener, and Youngstown State before suffering back-to-back losses to No. 11 Illinois State and No. 1 North Dakota State before righting ship last week with a win last week at Missouri State.
“They are an excellent team,” Farley said. “They beat us in here last year.”
RED ZONE PERFECTION: The Panthers improved to a perfect 24 of 24 after scoring on both of its trips inside the red zone against South Dakota State Saturday.
UNI has scored 17 touchdowns, and kicker Austin Errthum has connected on all seven of his field goal attempts inside the 20 as the Panthers lead the FCS in that category. UNI is the only team in the country with 20 or more red zone scores that is perfect.
“That is a three-prong success,” Farley said. “One, your quarterback has to be very successful. The field gets tight, a lot of bodies in a short space so you have to make good decisions when you throw it.
“Two, you better have a good offensive line if you going to try to punch it in because again everything gets packed in and blitzes start to happen. And, then three you better have a good kicker.”
PRAISE FOR FERCH: With a young group at linebacker, UNI coaches have put a lot on the shoulders of senior three-year starter Duncan Ferch.
With the Panthers playing to their strength, Ferch has been forced to switch from middle to will linebacker not only from game to game, but a lot of times from one defensive series to the next.
After recording 13 tackles and breaking up three passes in the win over SDSU, Ferch was named the MVFC Defensive Player of the Week, the league announced Sunday.
“I thought that was well deserved,” Farley said. “He had to move to will linebacker because the Kendrick (Suntken) was the next man in and Kendrick is only a mike. To make it all fit with the dual injuries, with Blake (Thomas) going down and Kolarevic (Chris) going down.
“We found out on Tuesday both were out. Tuesday afternoon we had to start moving people around to create a starting group. That was a big piece of the puzzle was Duncan understanding how to play will and everything that goes with playing will because that is a different position.
“It worked out well and because of his intelligence and his experience he made it all fit together and then he gets player of the week so well deserved.”
INJURIES: Farley did not have much to add on the status of several players who have been out. He said he doesn’t expect anybody that played Saturday against South Dakota State will have to miss this weekend’s game.
As for Thomas and offensive guard Nick Ellis, who has missed the last two games, time will only tell.
“Probably find out more about him until tomorrow,” Farley said of Ellis. “He has an appointment we couldn’t get him into until tomorrow, but that one ... I actually said I thought he’d come back sooner than later. But that didn’t happen and that was a surprise. That is the one I’m somewhat shocked by, but he is not making progress in the area that he needs.”