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Penalties Derail Northern Iowa's Upset Bid, Overshadow Johnson

Panthers commit 16 penalties against Iowa, lose despite 200-plus yards of offense from star running back

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IOWA CITY — The Northern Iowa football team certainly is no longer intimidated by going on the road against a Football Bowl Subdivision team.

That much was evident in the Panthers’ season-opening 31-23 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. But feeling like you belong only goes so far. Once a team crosses the awe-struck hurdle, it has to execute.

And it was in that area UNI (0-1) fell just a little short against Iowa (1-0). Sixteen penalties for 128 yards extended drives for the Hawkeyes, derailed potential scoring drives of their own and overshadowed another career performance by David Johnson, who had 245 yards of total offense.

“Some of those things, we got in our own way and they were legitimate penalties,” said Panthers Coach Mark Farley. “In a game like this; we made plays on offense, we made plays on defense, but the penalties set us back.

“Like I told them, this was just (one) game. We did not peak today, you can see all the errors. We just have to keep growing this team.”

UNI players and coaches couldn’t help but have a bit of a bittersweet feeling in the postgame news conferences. As Farley said, the Panthers performed well — and perhaps better than Iowa — at times, especially on offense, but self-inflicted wounds kept them from capitalizing on momentum shifts — if you believe in such a thing.

There was a definite feeling — and some outright acknowledgment — of potential for a different outcome without certain backbreaking penalties.

Obviously there’s no way to know for sure, but that feeling of wondering will eat at them and hopefully, multiple players said, drive them to be better.

“I don’t know (why so many penalties), that really hurt us. Guys just dropped their heads and lost a little concentration in the moment,” said linebacker Jake Farley. “I think (the outcome) is completely different (without them).

“I think probably two of the touchdowns they scored don’t happen, because I think one of the PIs (pass interference calls) was on third and long, and they weren’t in field goal range.”

At one point in the second half, the Panther offense had back to back delay of game calls go against them. On the first, quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen was trying to change the play and ran out of time trying to call out the audible amid the din of the fans in the south end zone. On the second, it was a miscommunication between the sideline and officials on when the play clock started.

Then mistakes came on both sides of the ball, and everyone was quick to accept responsibility for their role in it.

“We had a holding call on our first drive that was called back, so those are just things we need to clean up,” said Kollmorgen, who finished with 17 of 37 for 380 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. “We need to be smarter and better about that. And I need to manage the clock better. Down in the red zone, those two delay of games; that’s unacceptable on my part. We need to learn from it.”

Learn from it. That’s the important part now.

The rewarding feeling of hanging tough with a team above their level — and one they haven’t beaten since 1898 — doesn’t last if the mistakes keep happening. Fortunately for the Panthers, they have two weeks to prepare before they fly to Honolulu to take on Hawaii.

Better believe the coaching staff will do all they can to correct what went wrong in Iowa City.

“You’re more mad like you go beat by someone in our league because you know you did it to yourself instead of the other way,” Mark Farley said. “We have to learn from our mistakes because we had all the penalties, that’s the first thing we need to correct.

“Those pass interference (calls), some of those I’m going to give to they’ve got great players too. There’s a push there. They force you into doing those things. … You can fix some things, but you’ve also got to credit your opponent for having great players.”


Of course, it wasn’t necessarily gloom and doom on Saturday for Northern Iowa.

David Johnson continued his string of success in games against FBS teams. He finished the game with 13 carries for 34 yards and five catches for 203 yards and a touchdown — the first UNI player to top 200 yards receiving since Eddie Gallas had 251 yards in 2003 against Southern Illinois.

It was the second straight 200-plus all-purpose-yard performance and fourth straight 100-plus yard all-purpose game against FBS teams. He had 199 yards rushing and 41 yards receiving with four total touchdowns in the Panthers’ 28-20 win against Iowa State last season, had 125 total yards against Wisconsin in 2012 (107 receiving) and 154 total yards that same season against Iowa.

“DJ (David Johnson) is a great running back, I think he displayed that again today in a big game,” Farley said.

Johnson hit the Hawkeyes hardest on what amounted to dump-offs over the middle in which he beat the linebacker covering him and found himself wide open.

It was something the Panthers’ coaching staff found on film with the Hawkeyes’ linebacker corps being young and somewhat inexperienced. Johnson said he and the staff know he excels in the pass game, so combine his ability and a weakness, and Northern Iowa had something to exploit.

“You try to do some things to get a guy open, and get (Iowa) misdirected or get them outflanked a little bit and use the running game to do that,” Farley said. “I think there was a little misdirection to get him in the seam, but we felt we could attack the seam because there was a little more vulnerability there because the corners were as good as they are.”

Iowa linebacker Quinton Alston said it was just “communication issues” on the linebackers’ part, and Coach Kirk Ferentz agreed, but also gave credit to Northern Iowa.

“I think (it was) a combination of both,” Ferentz said. “They caught us a couple of times, and I’ve seen them do that historically.

“They have a good scheme, and then we didn’t play smart enough at times, either.”

From Sawyer Kollmorgen’s perspective, the two plays were the easiest throws he had all day. The plan coaches had for those situations had him and Johnson licking their chops.

That was especially true when they ran the same play the second time. Johnson had heard from teammates when the first one didn’t end in a touchdown, and wanted to correct it.

“I think our coaches did a great job dissecting film, figuring out the best opportunity for us and the passing game especially, getting David on some one-on-one matchups with linebackers, which always works out for us,” Kollmorgen said. “We ran the same play, I think, twice. The first one he didn’t get in the end zone. I think it was Kevin Vereen was making fun of him telling him to finally score, so the last one he did the same thing, the same move on the guy, and went and scored. That’s the fastest I’ve ever seen David run.”

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