Perennial powerhouse UNI hasn’t lost to YSU since 2000
By Joe Scalzo
Their first-team all-conference quarterback was replaced with a freshman.
Their conference defensive player of the year is now a rookie with the Cleveland Browns and his replacement had to come off the field twice last week due to injuries.
Their first two losses — to Big Ten teams, no less — left them beat up and their first two conference games are against teams ranked in the top five nationally in both polls.
And yet, as the Northern Iowa Panthers begin conference play Saturday at Youngstown State, there’s no sense that this is a down year for the Missouri Valley’s perennial powerhouse.
“Coach [Mark] Farley has done a great job,” YSU coach Eric Wolford said. “He lost some guys [to graduation] but I think he has his program in a place where he can just reload.
“That’s where we all want to be someday.”
UNI’s starting quarterback the past two years, Tirrell Rennie, has graduated but he actually missed last year’s game against YSU. The Panthers instead turned to freshman Jared Lanpher, who threw for 238 yards and two TDs to help UNI edge the Penguins, 21-17, in the final minutes.
Lanpher then lost the offseason competition to redshirt freshman Sawyer Kollmorgen, who has completed 49 of 85 passes for 739 yards, six TDs and just one interception this fall.
RBs David Johnson (30 carries, 100 yards, 1 TD) and Carlos Anderson (23 carries, 97 yards, 0 TDs) have struggled to find running room, in part because the Panthers played Wisconsin in the opener and Iowa last week.
Three receivers have at least 120 yards so far this season, with Brett LeMaster leading the way with 224 yards on just nine receptions.
Up front, UNI is typically huge. All five linemen stand at least 6-5 and weigh at least 300 pounds.
“They try and get on to you and drive you,” said YSU linebacker Teven Williams. “We’re not going to let that happen.
“As a defense, it comes down to fundamentals. We’ve have to tackle well, know our assignments, have a pre-snap menu of what they’re going to do when they line up so we’re better prepared for what they’re coming out to.”
Defensively, DL Ben Boothby and LB L.J. Fort (now with the Browns) are gone and Fort’s replacement, Jordan Gacke, is battling a knee injury, but players such as senior FS Wilmot Wellington (33 tackles), sophomore LB Max Busher (three tackles for loss) and senior DE Tim Clark (three TFLs) have stepped up. The Panthers’ scheme is built on being fast and physical and no one in the conference gave YSU’s offense more fits last season.
Still, Busher (ankle) and Zach Cutkomp (knee) are hobbling, several other players are beaten up and Farley admitted it could be difficult for his team to get up for a game that comes on the heels of two Big Ten games and a week before a showdown with defending FCS champion North Dakota State.
“Our backs are against the wall, there’s no question,” he said. “I knew that coming into the season. We have to find a way.
“This is our schedule, this is our team and we’re going to find a way. That’s what our purpose is this week.”
UNI has won seven conference championships and made seven playoff appearances in his 11 1/2 seasons and has never lost to Youngstown State, so the loss of a few players to graduation or injury won’t be enough to derail the Panthers, Wolford said.
“You can see he’s recruited very well,” Wolford said.
And while many YSU fans consider UNI their main conference rival, Wolford doesn’t see it that way.
“I see a rivalry game as being back and forth,” Wolford. “They’ve been so dominant and had so much success against us, I don’t see us being a rivalry to them.
“Coach Farley can say what he wants, but I know his team has confidence playing Youngstown State.”