CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa’s football team produced two victories in the first shift of the 2013 season.
Mark Farley picked up one vital byproduct — knowledge.
With the Panthers facing their only open Saturday of the year, the head coach and his staff have a chance to study UNI’s performance and make the necessary adjustments before the Sept. 21 game at Northern Colorado.
“I feel good that I have a good handle on what our team is capable of and where we need work, where we got exposed,” Farley said after Saturday’s 45-14 win over Drake.
Farley pointed to a couple of areas where he would like to see more consistent play from his team.
One was the ground game. While UNI racked up 267 net yards rushing against the Bulldogs, 120 of those came from just three David Johnson carries. Johnson finished with 143 yards.
But the rush offense lacked the consistency it showed in the 28-20 win at Iowa State, said Farley.
“We have to be able to run the ball better — just pound the ball better,” he said. “But we pounded the ball at Iowa State, so you look at it as a double-edged sword. Why didn’t it go this time?”
While UNI ponders that question, Farley also wants to see improvement in the special teams play without pointing to any specific phase.
Tyler Sievertsen went 1-for-2 in field goal tries, hitting from 23 yards in the first half and missing from 46 in the second.
New punter Logan Bieghler officially kicked five times for an average of 41.6 yards per attempt. But Drake partially blocked one of his punts and pressured him several other times. The tipped kick is statistically considered a team attempt.
Brion Carnes returned three punts for a total of 25 yards. The Panthers did not have a kickoff return Saturday.
Said Farley, “We need to do a better job in some of our special teams. We’re not at the level we need to be at some ... right now. We need to find a way to create points in our favor in special teams, and we’re not there yet.”
There are other areas where UNI appears to be performing well ahead of reasonable expectations
Johnson, for instance, is averaging 9.5 yards per rushing attempt with a total of 342 yards. Quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen has completed 76.2 percent of his passes, connecting for four touchdown passes. He hasn’t been intercepted.
With Brett LeMaster out, Kevin Vereen has emerged as a key member of UNI’s wide receiver corps. Vereen leads the Panthers with 12 catches and 155 yards through two games. He caught an 17-yard TD strike from Kollmorgen and set up another score with a 36-yard reception.
Chad Owens has grabbed seven footballs and Phil Wright four with a touchdown.
“Kevin had a great game,” said Kollmorgen. “We don’t have a main target. We have a bunch of great receivers. Chad does a great job. Phil does a great job. But Kevin definitely had to step it up, being that outside threat now ... more of the kind of guy we go to.”
Defensively, Xavier Williams has been one of the reasons why UNI has 12 sacks in two games, matching the total for the entire 2012 schedule.
The 6-foot-4, 311-pound junior has been lining up frequently at nose tackle, thanks to the extensive use of a 3-4 defensive alignment. He posted 2½ sacks Saturday against Drake and leads the team with 3½.
“It’s great, considering I only had about one last year,” said Williams, who actually had a half-sack in 2012. “So it’s a nice start.”
Said Farley, “(Williams) is playing a factor in the things we’re doing and creating problems even though he may not be getting tackles. He’s creating leverage angles for everybody else around him.”
- Jim Sullivan is a reporter for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, another Lee Enterprises newspaper.