CEDAR FALLS — The Northern Iowa Panthers sit at 0-3 for the first time since 1969 — seven years before the first season in the UNI-Dome.
UNI head coach Mark Farley railed against the missed tackles following the Panthers most recent loss — a 37-21 stumble at home against Sacramento State.
On Monday, however, Farley said he saw a lack of composure when the Hornets ran an up-tempo offense as the biggest difference between last year’s top-ranked defense and the same unit this season.
“Everybody wants to look at what’s different,” Farley said. “Last year’s team … we went to Eastern Washington and we were in the same situation when they went fast. We lost our composure a little bit. We gave up a big drive. Then, we came right back, settled in and played good defense again.”
However, he added, more than just missed tackles plagued the much-maligned UNI defense.
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“When you lose your composure due to the speed of the play, you get caught up in the moment. You are not thinking as quickly as you should and you are not reacting as quickly as you should, thus you do not look as good as you should,” Farley said. “There are a lot more things at play than missed tackles. … What is the cause behind it is what needs to be addressed.”
Through their first three games, the Panthers have allowed the 10th-most yards per game and the third-most rushing yards among FCS schools. The Panthers defense has struggled to get off the field late in games, allowing a pair of long, game-clinching drives in back-to-back losses.
During his press conference following the loss to Sac State, Farley said the solution to getting the opposing offense off the field is tackling and not “holding on” as a runner gains additional yardage after contact. He said heart features as a major component of proper tackling.
On Monday, Farley said defenders need to approach each tackle with the proper attitude, and he intends to instill that attitude as the Panthers prepare for the upcoming matchup against Western Illinois.
“It can be instilled in anybody,” Farley said. “You got to fix what is between the ears and what is in the heart before you can fix what is on the field. You have to figure out where your problem is before you fix the problem. That is what we are doing.”
The results will come with hard work throughout the week and going into Saturday’s matchup with the right mindset. Once the Panthers figure out how to do both consistently, they will become the team Farley knows they can be.
“We haven’t played the four quarters of football that I want,” Farley said. “I have seen some good offense, but I have seen some things that we can clean up on offense. I have seen good defense, but there are some things we can clean up. Yet, I do not think we are close to what we could be.”
He wants his team to focus on the day-to-day process of getting better rather than on their record or the record of their opponents.
“You should never talk about winning or losing,” Farley said. “You should just talk about what you need to work on. Those are the teams that really perform well.”
That message will come in handy Saturday as the Panthers take on the similarly winless Leathernecks in their second Missouri Valley Football conference matchup of the season.
Western Illinois welcomes back former Leathernecks wide receiver Myers Henderickson — son of former WIU head coach and UNI wide receiver Mark Henderickson — as its new head coach.
Through their first three games, the Leathernecks have struggled on both sides of the ball, ranking in the bottom 50% of the FCS in both total offense and defense.
WIU has allowed the opposition to rack up yards through the air and on the ground, with 305.3 passing yards allowed per game and 229.0 rushing.
On offense, the outlook does not get much better as the Leathernecks mustered only 85.0 yards per game on the ground. However, WIU possesses a top 50 passing offense with 225.3 yards per game.
While the passing game appears to be a strength, some uncertainty exists at quarterback. Two players — Henry Ogala and Nick Davenport — have started a game this season and another — Clay Bruno — replaced Davenport early in the second quarter last week.
In addition to their struggles moving the ball, the Leathernecks possess one of the worst turnover margins in the country (-6) — a fact highlighted by their four turnovers in last week’s 17-10 loss to Southern Utah.