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UNI ready for top-10 clash with McNeese State
The matchup is billboard material, and Mark Farley believes McNeese State at Northern Iowa deserves big-game status.
“We haven’t had this kind of game in the Dome in a long, long time during the season,” said the Panthers’ head football coach. “This is the real deal.”
And yes, the hype is on billboards in Cedar Falls and Waterloo, not to mention another overlooking I-380.
Now, the question is, will Saturday’s 4 p.m. game in the UNI-Dome between No. 9 McNeese State (4-0) live up to the billing?
“Win, lose or draw, the fans will get to see a great football game early in the season,” said Farley.
WHO: No. 9 McNeese St. (4-0) at No. 5 N. Iowa (3-0)
When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
Where: UNI-Dome, Cedar Falls
Radio: KXEL (1540 AM)
Series: UNI leads 6-4
Last meeting: The Panthers, with Mike Dunbar the head coach, beat the Cowboys on the road, 41-17 in 1999.
For the first time since 1998, when McNeese State and UNI played at Waterloo Memorial Stadium while the Dome underwent repairs, this rivalry comes to the Cedar Valley. If nothing else, the 2013 edition of Cowboys vs. Panthers features two teams who are out of the starting blocks very well.
McNeese State opened with a 53-21 thumping of South Florida from the Football Bowl Subdivision, and the Cowboys haven’t paused for a breather. Even though McNeese State edged West Alabama, 44-42, in game three, its average margin of victory has been just under 29 points per game.
The Cowboys are second nationally in points scored (49.5 per game) and seventh in total offense (510.0 yards per game). Their 95.0 percent success rate in the red zone is No. 1. Cody Stroud stands second among Southland Conference quarterbacks in efficiency.
While its defense has given up points, McNeese State stands ninth nationally in turnover margin at plus-6.
“I just know this: That if you watch the film, you see how good a football team (UNI) is playing,” said Farley. “You just know the atmosphere is more of a championship-type situation.”
With a 3-0 record that includes a key victory at Iowa State, the Panthers are out to their best start in six years. A disappointing, 5-6 2012 season seems farther and farther away.
Look at sacks, for example. Last year, UNI struggled to rush the passer. This year, the Panthers rank third nationally in sacks at 4.67 per game. Defensive end Collin Albrecht holds third individually with five sacks in three games.
Linebacker Jake Farley ranks fifth in the Football Championship Subdivision tackling statistics at 12.3 stops per game.
Offensively, running back David Johnson is No. 3 in rushing at 154.3 yards per game. Farley, meanwhile, has seen good performances from several Panthers, including quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen plus receivers Kevin Vereen and Chad Owens.
Asked if UNI has progressed at the rate he expected, Farley said, “We’ll find out this week.”
The Panther coach did outline his expectations for the team’s emotional state Saturday.
“They’ll be ready to play,” he said. “It’s gonna come down to execution now.”