CEDAR FALLS | The rest of Northern Iowa's football season will test the Panthers' emotional and physical mettle, according to head coach Mark Farley.
With the team's depth getting thinner by the week, Farley knows some of his players will have to remain between the white lines longer, no matter what the level of fatigue might be.
"They have to be iron men," said Farley Monday. "They've got to step up. They know that. They just have to understand the situation they're in and not look to the sideline.
"They're going to have to fight through twists and turns that'll happen in football and stay on the field."
During his weekly press conference, Farley confirmed that one Panther will not be stepping on the field, period, for the closing half of 2013.
Senior wide receiver Phil Wright, who hadn't played since suffering a foot injury against McNeese State, is officially out for the season. Wright had six catches, which ranks fourth among UNI pass catchers even though he played in only four games.
So that leaves the Panther offense without two proven wideouts - Brett LeMaster (knee) and Wright. Their absence might lead to some adjustments. Saturday, for instance, running back Evan Williams lined up at wide receiver for a few snaps. That doesn't mean Williams has changed positions. He has not, according to Farley.
But somebody, whether it's Isaac Lintz or a tight end or another Panther, has to become an additional threat in the passing game. Farley noted that cornerbacks responsible for covering Kevin Vereen have been getting help more and more.
Farley added, "Now, when you start to rotate guys in and you're playing with three receivers and sometimes four, I think that really makes you start doing some things with the paper and pencil. So we're trying to do those things, yet have the practices we want going into the game. We're dealing with that, but that's something you're dealing with every season."
UNI's offense is also trying to deal with a David Johnson who is less than full strength, thanks to a hip pointer. Like Vereen, Johnson is being confronted by extra attention from opposing defenses.
Yet, the junior remains UNI's best running back and a major part of the passing attack. So, he plays as he did in the loss to Southern Illinois.
"Sometimes, you have to play through injuries, and this is one of those times he's playing through that," said Farley. "You don't get over a hip pointer in a week's time.
"We tried to hold him out of a lot of things, but we were hoping what he could be on Saturday. He did a great job for the situation he was put under, but he didn't do the job, maybe, what we had expected as fans and coaches, not through his fault."
On the defensive side, Farley said UNI jumped into scramble mode late in the Southern Illinois game. Max Busher, who was filling in for the injured Jake Farley at linebacker, left with leg cramps. Zach Cutkomp, normally an outside linebacker, took Busher's spot inside.
When a hard block sent Jordan Gacke to the bench, redshirt freshman Nate Shaw took the field for one play.
And so it goes.
"It's part of our game and the situation we're in," said Farley. "We'll definitely address it this week."
And UNI will need some answers before meeting a South Dakota team that's won two consecutive Missouri Valley Football Conference games.
"It's not getting any easier," said Farley.