What UNI football has to fix as the schedule gets even tougher
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Northern Iowa quarterback Eli Dunne (14) sets to throw during the second quarter of their game Saturday at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

for The Gazette

CEDAR FALLS — After a heartbreaking 38-29 loss to Western Illinois on Saturday, Northern Iowa (2-3, 1-1) is facing an all-too-familiar situation.

The Panthers will need to win at least four of their remaining six games to put themselves in position for an at-large bid to the 24-team FCS Playoffs. Their path could not be any more difficult with four of their next six opponents currently ranked in the top-8 of the STATS poll.

Here are four things that stick out in the aftermath of UNI’s gut-wrenching Week 6 loss.

Panthers frustrated, but focusing after loss

Considering all the ups and downs that took place before ultimately losing Saturday, UNI head coach Mark Farley was still dealing with feelings of frustration Monday.

“Can you be frustrated and mad about what happened? You bet you can. Can you let it get you down and can you let it hang over you? Not at all,” Farley said. “You can be as mad as you want to be and you should be. If you’re not, I’d be worried. But, you cannot be down about it. You have to find ways to correct and solve and move on. That’s what we’ll take care of.”

Farley said it’s wait and see mode on whether or not the gut-wrenching loss would spark any sort of edge with his team going forward. Same goes on whether or not he still sees a path to the playoffs.

“I’m just trying to see what I’ll do this afternoon,” Farley said. “So we’ll figure out (the playoff picture) as we go.”

Opponents are targeting, challenging freshmen safeties

Much of Sean McGuire’s 300-yard, three-touchdown, zero-interception performance Saturday came with an obvious effort to target the Panthers’ freshmen safety duo. Always easier said than done, but the veteran QB exposed the Suni Lane and Korby Sander with his pocket presence and ability to extend plays.

“What can I do to help them? That’s the task this week. Because (teams) are going after (Lane and Sander). There’s no question they’re going after those guys,” Farley said. “There’s choices to be made there. You want to send more people? Or, you got to send less people to the quarterback to help them. Which one is best for them? Which match-ups do they have on the field? (It’s) some of the things we look at this week when we get them lined up.”

Missed opportunities gloss over pass-rush improvement

Rickey Neal’s two sacks of Sean McGuire were a pleasant sight for a defense that only had three to their name through four games. While the two sacks came on third down there were other third and fourth down conversions by Western Illinois that ultimately sacked the Panthers’ chance at the win. A number of McGuire’s 39 dropbacks featured unclean pockets, but the Panthers were unable to bring the signal-caller down.

“I thought we came off the ball well,” Farley said. “But you know it’s that last drive that hangs over you, defensively, because you play good football and then that last drive occurs — which a lot of that had to do with the pass-rush. We had the down-and-distance we wanted and didn’t pull it off. So, that’s what we’re mad about, if you want to call it that. That’s what I’ll remain frustrated about until I get it fixed. But we shouldn’t have been in that position. Because we really had chances offensively to take a good-sized lead and didn’t do that.”

Running game woes persist

Thirty rushes for 66 yards says it all. It was another game with next to nothing from the running game for UNI. An illegal formation penalty brought back what would have been a 97-yard touchdown run by Trevor Allen early in the second quarter. Farley has gone back to “rhythm,” or the lack thereof, as a culprit of the running game woes.

“I don’t know if there’s anything that sticks out. We didn’t win first down like we needed to. We didn’t make some plays we should have, let’s put it that way,” Farley said. “When we didn’t make those plays (we) got out of rhythm and then stayed out of rhythm — never got them back in sync.”

Listen to 2017 UNI football on the Home Of The Panthers, News/Talk 1540 KXEL. Follow @KXELPanthers on Twitter for the latest news, interviews, and more.

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  • Cole Bair handles sports for News/Talk 1540 KXEL, including sportscasts, co-hosting and producing 'On Press Row', contributing to high school football and college football and basketball programs, along with being the driving force behind HomeOfThePanthers.com. A graduate of the University of Northern Iowa, Bair is also an avid golfer and Chicago Cubs fan, and has an excellent rapport with both players and coaches.

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