CEDAR FALLS - Northern Iowa football coach Mark Farley was unsure where his squad would be after four games this season. But with a more-than-daunting schedule, he hoped for the best but was ready for the worst.
"We've been in some battles, but we need to find a way to gain some momentum here in the next few weeks," Farley said. "We have played FCS No. 3, Wisconsin and then Iowa. Those are some pretty tall tasks for our football team."
The Panthers began the year with an impressive 26-21 loss to then nationally ranked FBS Wisconsin. After a 59-0 win over Central State, UNI lost to Iowa at Kinnick Stadium, 27-16, and then fell short on the road again, losing to No. 3 Youngstown State, 42-35.
While the schedule doesn't get any easier this weekend against top-ranked and defending national champion North Dakota State, Farley is just happy to be back at the friendly confines.
"We haven't been at home for a while it seems like," Farley said. "We're just glad to be home. We're getting a home game against a good football team and that excites us."
North Dakota State enters the game 3-0 with wins over Robert Morris and Prairie View A&M from the FCS as well as Colorado State from the FBS. The Bison beat the Panthers at the FargoDome last year but is just 6-15 all-time in games played against the Panthers at the UNI-Dome.
North Dakota St. at Northern Iowa
When: Today, 6 p.m.
Where: UNI-Dome, Cedar Falls
TV: KWWL 7, WOI 5.2
And even though the Panthers are only 1-3, don't expect Farley to change anything. He and his staff still believe in what they do week in and week and out.
"We've just got to finish games better," Farley said. "I am not going to change anything. We know what we do works. We know we can be successful. We just need to clean it up and stay with the plan."
The Panther offense has been gaining momentum of late. UNI scored 59 points in a win over Central State and scored enough last week in the seven-point loss to Youngstown State.
In the 35-point effort last week, freshman quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen threw for 333 yards. He has thrown for at least 200 yards in all four games this year and averages 268 yards passing per game.
Kollmorgen has also thrown nine TDs.
David Johnson is working into becoming a star as well. The running back leads the team in rushing and receiving yards so far this season. He has 184 rushing yards with three scores and 240 receiving yards on 16 catches with four more TDs. Chad Owens also has better than 200 yards receiving for Northern Iowa, which has moved to a more pass-friendly offense under Kollmorgen.
"The offense is certainly starting to gather momentum as the season progresses," Farley. "We hope to continue that trend this weekend."
The Bison are led by John Crockett on the ground and Brock Jensen through the air. Crockett has rushed for 207 yards and two scores, while Jensen is completing 70 percent of his passes, averaging 199 passing yards per game and thrown seven TDs.
Zach Vraa is without a doubt Jensen's first look in pass progressions. Vraa is way ahead of all teammates with 18 catches for 299 yards and two scores. The Bison defense is led by Grant Olson's 20 tackles.
Wilmot Wellington and Garrett Scott lead the Northern Iowa defense with 39 and 33 tackles, respectively.
Both teams went 7-1 in conference play last season to earn co-Missouri Valley Football Conference champion honors. The Bison though finished the season with a national championship.
Northern Iowa is 2-4 all-time when facing the top-ranked team in the nation. The Panthers' last win came in 2005 when they knocked off then No. 1 New Hampshire 24-21 in the NCAA Playoffs.
The Panthers and Bison will kick off at the UNI-Dome at 6 p.m. Northern Iowa has designated this weekend Family Weekend.