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Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley, left, talks with Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell before a game during the 2017 season. The Panthers visit the Cyclones Saturday to kick off the 2018 season.

CEDAR FALLS — There are a multitude of things the University of Northern Iowa football team needs to clean up in the days leading up to Saturday’s season-opener against No. 21 Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames.

That is nothing new to any team preparing to play this weekend.

But after three weeks of preseason practice, head coach Mark Farley says it is time to play.

“We had our time and we should be prepared,” Farley said Monday. “We weren’t prepared coming out of Friday’s practice as good as we needed to be, but we still have this week to clean up those things. It’s just time to play.

“You can only practice so much. We need to get on that field, see where we are at and make adjustments from there.”

Farley gave the team the weekend off after practicing Friday morning with the Panthers’ prep work for the Cyclones beginning in earnest Monday although some work has already been done to prepare for ISU.

This will be the 12th time Farley has coached against the Cyclones. He is 3-8 all-time, and he has high praise for the current Iowa State team.

“By far,” Farley said when asked if this is the best Cyclone team he has prepared for. “They’ve got Big 12 players. They are confident. They are competitive. When I say that, compared to other teams we’ve played down there, they have that internal magnetism that really makes them good, it is not just the talent on the field.

“I noticed that the last time we played them, and I noticed it even more now. It is a much stronger football team than what we’ve played in the past.”

DRYSDALE OUT: Farley ruled projected No. 1 kicker Sam Drysdale out for Saturday’s game.

Drysdale, who owned the job in 2017 before losing a battle for the position to Austin Errthum last season, suffered a hip injury in the spring that required surgery, and he is still working his way back.

Farley said Drysdale can’t sustain kicking right now.

That means UNI will use either redshirt freshman Nate Murphy of West Des Moines Valley or true freshman Matthew Cook of Cedar Falls.

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“I will make the choice who the starter is probably Wednesday or Thursday. I may make it on game day, I’ve done that before,” Farley said. “To me, with kicking, like quarterback, everybody looks good in practice sometimes, but you get them into game situations and there is a lot of stress ... all eyes are upon them.

“Sometimes things change, and hopefully it doesn’t but if it does we will make the adjustment at that time.”

Farley said Murphy is a calm presence who held for PATs last season and has handled game stress. He also said Cook has held his own in preseason camp.

“Cook, we will see how he does,” Farley said. “He looks strong. He really came in and competed hard for the position and that is why it is up for grabs.”

MORE ON INJURIES: Other than Drysdale and linebacker Chris Kolarevic, who has been limited and has not practiced much, Farley anticipates everyone will be available for the Cyclones.

In recent practices leading up to game week, receivers Jaylin James and Suni Lane have missed some time, as have offensive lineman Nick Ellis and defensive tackle Jared Brinkman, to name a few.

“There are still some guys that should be there by midweek,” Farley said. “I anticipate everybody else playing as I stand here now except those two (Drysdale and Kolarevic). If they do it would be great, but I don’t foresee it.”

RULE CHANGES: Farley said he likes two of the newer rule changes, especially the targeting rule.

“They have left the responsibility on the replay,” Farley said of the targeting. “The guys on the field are going to call it the same. It is going to the replay.

“They’ve got to make sure that if they are going to eject somebody, it’s got to be a legitimate call. It is seen and reviewed. I believe in that.”

Farley said the new rule outlawing a two-man wedge on kickoff returns could see some teams change strategy.

“That is probably the biggest change of rule that will affect the game ...” Farley said. “Will there be more fair catches now? Or how will you design your return?

“You may see more fair catches due to the fact you can’t use the two-man wedge any more. That will probably be more concerning to teams moreso than any of the other ones.”

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Sports reporter for The Courier

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