Cedar Falls – Northern Iowa State head coach Mark Farley left little doubt about his priorities ahead of the Panthers’ losing game against 8th seed Sacramento State.
“I’m just trying to fix our defense, we’ve got a good attack here,” Farley said.
UNI’s defense got off to a rough start against the Air Force in its first week as the Panthers gave up 691 yards of total attack, including 582 rushing yards, in a 48-17 loss.
Last week, the defense showed flashes of what it could be, as North Dakota kept just seven points in the first half of play, but failed to banish the Fighting Hawks’ attack off the field in the fourth quarter.
The 29-27 leader, UND grabbed the ball after UNI went down with 6:51 left in the game. The Fighting Hawks beat the clock by a 12, 57-yard game, in which UND converted two third touchdowns.
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During his weekly press conference on Monday, Farley expressed his frustration with UNI’s defensive performance while also crediting the offense with keeping UNI in the game, on Saturday.
“[Our offense] She responded to the right-back,” Farley said. “Then it was up to the defense to go out there and do what it had to do. We gave up the score, we gave up the third – third and 10 … You know me. This does not bode well in defense. Our offense is to put enough points on the board to win. We have to clean up our defense and we will do that.”
In contrast to the previous season, Farley described the feeling of having a strong attack outsmarted him with the opponent.
“It feels good when you see your sideline with the confidence he has in attack,” Farley said. “While the defense is trying to hold on, just get one touch to win the match. Now, they are going up and down the field.”
Despite frustration with their overall performance, Farley noted that the Panthers’ defense showed flashes of what it could be. He specifically noted UNI’s ability to adapt to a North Dakota pass-through attack from the ground-and-pound Air Force style.
“We did a good job, last week, getting them back to the coverages we needed to be in,” Farley said. “This is a better team at throwing football than last week. Staff [need to] Clean up their style and they will achieve the success they expect. But, they have to clean up the details and their technique and keep playing at high speed.”
UNI defense gets no reprieve as the eighth-seeded Sacramento State Hornets come to Cedar Falls for a second game last season with a UNI win 34-16.
“This week is quite challenging because it is probably the biggest throwing attack in FCS football,” Farley said. “When it was the Air Force’s top rushing offense, it was the top rushing offense in Sacramento.”
In their season-opening game against Utah Tech – another upcoming opponent from UNI – the Hornets collected 589 total yards of attack with 211 passing yards and 378 rushing yards.
Led by a pair of talented and experienced signal communicators, the Sac State has the ability to beat the defense in many ways.
“They have enough talent,” Farley said. “They have enough firepower and they have enough call-up ability that they can line up against anyone and get the football moving.”
Both quarterbacks – Jake Dunaway and Asher O’Hara – took shots on Hornet’s opening campaign.
O’Hara presents an even greater threat with his double-threat ability as the Illinois native charged for 101 yards and scored in 12 attempts. However, he also added 56 yards and two touchdowns in 5 for 7. Last season, O’Hara broadcast it 53 times for 338 yards in 32 games against the Panthers.
Dunniway fits the pocket pass mold with 141 yards and two hits to land on 17 for 25 and only one dash attempt for a seven yard loss.
While looking at Saturday’s game, Farley said the Hornets’ attack is working at a high level no matter who lines up under the center.
“It doesn’t matter which play is good,” Farley said. “They won Big Sky. They are a playoff football team last year. This is the Big Sky champion. This isn’t just a Big Sky team… this is a great conference.”
Defensively, the Hornets have an opportunistically aggressive defense that forced three interceptions in the first quarter against the Trailblazers. All three spins landed the Hornets.
While aggressive and opportunistic, Sac State allowed 506 passing yards and three air landings.
Hornet’s aptitude for a powerful passing match opens the door for UNI quarterback Theo Day to reclaim his breakthrough performance last season.
Today he replaced Will McElphan under position in the first half against the Hornets with the Panthers relegating 9-7. Day led UNI’s previously choppy attack to 27 points in the third quarter to secure a 34-16 win.
“In that particular game, he was new to everyone,” Farley said. We didn’t know him because he just got here in August. We didn’t know how he would perform. I remember making that decision in the first half. If we’re going to see what it is, let’s see what’s here and not wait until the middle of the season… We gave him the first series and he scored a goal.”
Farley said Day has continued to improve since taking the starting role against Sac State 370 days ago.
“What I’ve really noticed now is that he’s gaining confidence in every game,” Farley said. “He plays well. He gets the ball out on time. He is more confident in himself. He understands and has more contact with his receivers this year and I think that shows in his play.”