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Hawkeyes vs. Panthers: UNI not an automatic win for Iowa football

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | SEPTEMBER 14, 2012 6:30 AM

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If the Hawkeyes ignore Northern Iowa, then they’re fools — that’s what Kirk Ferentz said.

The head coach and the Iowa football team’s oldest players remember what happened the last time the Hawkeyes faced off against the Panthers, and those memories make it more than clear that UNI, although a Football Clhampionship Subdivision team, is not a gimmie.

Iowa and Northern Iowa played last in 2009, and Iowa won. Barely. To secure the 17-16 victory, the Hawkeyes had to block two-consecutive field goals — the last one as time expired — to make it happen. Ferentz said his squad was lucky to get the win.

In addition to the Hawkeye-Panther history, the Iowa offense is struggling this season. The Black and Gold have scored one touchdown in two games, and quarterback James Vandenberg has connected on only 41-of-75 pass attempts for only 182 yards a game.

“Nobody’s happy with the production we’ve had so far,” Ferentz said.

That’s not the case for Northern Iowa. The Panthers lost to then-No. 12 Wisconsin by only 5 on Sept. 1 and shut out Central State (Ohio), 59-0, in Week 2.

“They’re a really tough football team, they come out, and they will play with anybody,” senior defensive lineman Steve Bigach said. “I’m sure they’re not intimidated at all by playing any top-level schools … They came in here in 2009, and they basically beat us in ’09. We’re expecting a heavyweight fight this weekend.”

The Hawkeyes have focused on execution this past week — not strategy as much as simply remembering the basics and performing them under pressure. Catching a pass, running a route, finishing through on a block. The Hawkeyes do have a new offensive coordinator in Greg Davis, but the reason for Iowa’s offensive failures — including eight dropped passes against Iowa State last week — isn’t a learning curve.

“Everyone knows what we’re supposed to be doing,” tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz said. “The biggest thing is just that we’re dropping balls in big situations in the game.”

Veteran receiver Keenan Davis, who was also responsible for a dropped pass, said there’s no way to over-prepare for a team such as Northern Iowa. He has been in the film room all week watching tape, including the Panthers’ close game with Wisconsin earlier this season.

“I try to watch as much film as I can,” Davis said. “Especially because Wisconsin runs a lot of formations similar to us.”

But because of the team’s new offense, Davis hasn’t looked much at Iowa’s last matchup with the in-state rival. Everything about that game is forgotten, except, of course, the fact that the Hawkeyes almost lost.

Northern Iowa may be a Football Championship Subdivision school, but the Hawkeyes are adamant that they’re not going to write off the Panthers. The Hawkeyes insist that they weren’t surprised when they saw UNI’s close score against Wisconsin in Week 1.

The players who were on the field three years ago and witness the late Iowa field-goal blocks understand their task this weekend. And now it’s their job to make sure everyone remembers 2009, even if they weren’t here.

“My freshman year, when I came in, I thought [the Northern Iowa game] was one of those games where you should just roll over a team, one of those 42-to-nothings,” senior cornerback Micah Hyde said. “But now, I’ve got to get the younger players prepared, just letting them know that anything can happen in any game. We had to block two field goals just to beat them just to get a W.”


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