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Rennie, air attack keys for UNI
Tirrell Rennie would grab the football, peer downfield and try to read the defense.
At times during his first season as Northern Iowa’s quarterback, Rennie understood perfectly what he saw. At others, it all seemed to be code.
“Sometimes - I won’t deny it - I’d take a snap or two and I didn’t know what was going on,” said the UNI senior. “I’d look out there and … I don’t know.”
Rennie feels he knows now after one year, a dozen Panther football games and hour upon hour of study. As his senior season approaches, the transfer from Ellsworth Community College is well-established as the No. 1 quarterback.
Along with time and experience comes understanding. Rennie feels he has a better grasp of the UNI attack, especially the passing game.
“To be a passer in this offense … 80 percent of the time you know where you’re going before the snap of the ball,” said Rennie. “I feel like I’m at that moment right now where I know where I’m going to go with the ball. I see this, I’m going to go to this side. I see this, and I’m going to go to this side. Or if they’re doing something else, we’ll audible.
“I feel we’ll be all right.”
By most reasonable standards, Rennie’s rookie season at the Football Championship Subdivision level far surpassed “all right.” The 6-foot, 198-pounder from North Lauderdale, Fla., earned Newcomer of the Year honors in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. He became the first Panther quarterback to rush and throw for 1,000 yards in a season.
Said Mario Verduzco, the co-offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, “When you think about it, for a young guy, a junior college transfer, to be able to do what he did in the passing game and with what we do in the passing game, I mean I was pretty proud of him from a work ethic standpoint.”
At times, the passing attack worked well. Rennie hit 18 of 26 passes for 265 yards in a win at South Dakota. Then again, he struggled at Iowa State, completing just six of 13 before being pulled.
So there was a sense that Rennie, as good as he was in 2010, needed to get better in 2011. Rennie knows it and said there will be more balance in the offense this fall.
“Last year, our strength was running the ball,” said the Panther quarterback, who beat out the now-departed Zach Davis for the No. 1 spot. “The emphasis this year is more about the passing game because (defenses) showed in a couple of games that we needed to pass that ball. We needed to get it down the field.
“So, as far as the passing situation, it’s gonna be dramatically improved from last year.”
Rennie said he spent a healthy share of his offseason watching himself and reading the playbook with heightened intensity.
And it only started there.
“A quarterback at UNI? What don’t they do?” said Rennie, laughing. “What I did over the summer was work with the receiving corps more. I’ve been in the playbook more than I was last year, and I thought I was in the playbook a lot last year.”
Rennie added, “Upstairs, we have good access to TV and what-not … computers. I’ve been reading coverages, reading defenses and looking at fronts, focusing not just on Iowa State, Stephen F. Austin and everybody else in the (Missouri) Valley Conference, but watching those same games, seeing my errors and correcting my errors.”
Anyone watching UNI game tape from 2010 also saw Rennie take his share of punishment. He had to leave the Western Illinois game with a knee injury, and he competed at less than 100 percent when UNI lost to Lehigh in the opening round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Rennie said he’s not concerned about getting hit this fall. He’ll depend on his offensive line for help.
“They’ll protect me,” added the quarterback. “I trust them. I love those guys and they’ll give their all for me. I’ll give my all for them. I’m used to the shots. I’ll take them.”
And Rennie is used to his surroundings now.
“I don’t want to say there’s looseness on the field,” said UNI running back Carlos Anderson. “But (Rennie) is more loose, more relaxed, more comfortable with the offense. He knows it better.
“Now, he’s telling people what to do as opposed to him coming from Ellsworth and people having to tell him what to do.”