“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
Close behind that is a competitive athlete who’s been told he’s not good enough for something. This week, Iowa State plays the University of Northern Iowa, the secondhand school in the state. “Secondhand” is in no way an insult in this context. Allow me to elaborate.
Every football player growing up wants to play football at the highest level possible. This is why players may pass up a scholarship at a successful mid-major to attend a historically awful Power 5 school. We want to prove that we are the best by playing the best. We want to leave no doubt that the confidence we have in ourselves and our abilities is not only validated, but actually has been underrated. We want that chance. We feed on it. We live for it. We need it. And then someone tells you you’re not good enough, and that in return feels like someone rips your heart out of your body by way of your stomach.
And then you get to see them again…
“Hi guys, remember me? I’m the one that wasn’t good enough to play for you. I’m going to make you regret the day you passed on me.”
UNI is one-half of a division below Iowa and Iowa State (FBS vs FCS), and anyone who disagrees is delusional. This puts them at a distinct disadvantage in recruiting. You will rarely see a recruit with offers from Iowa/ISU and UNI pick the Panthers for all the reasons I listed above. However, they have a distinct motivational tactic because of their position. Make no mistake, this is the best opportunity these guys will have all year to prove they were missed on. Beating up on Western Illinois does nothing to change that they feel they were slighted in recruiting, but beating one of the big boys and making a lasting impact absolutely does.
Regarding execution, Northern Iowa has an interesting philosophy. Due to their repeated success at the FCS level, they get their pick of the litter when it comes to guys who were bypassed by big schools. They get to look at the lot and find guys which fit the exact mold for a position that they’ve established. They don’t need a quarterback who can throw the ball 80 yards on his knees while blindfolded. They need a quarterback who makes the right decisions and can put the ball on the money from inside 30 yards. They don’t need an offensive lineman that comes in at 6-foot-7, 305 out of high school. They need an offensive lineman that played basketball and will come in at 6-foot-7, 225. By the time his fourth season comes around, he will be 6-foot-7, 305 with great feet.
Northern Iowa has perfected their art of recruiting. Because of this recruiting pigeonholing of players, their system never really goes away. They do all the little things correctly and rely on you to make the mistakes. They teach their slightly under-skilled players to do their job and nothing less. It’s a bit like batting against Greg Maddux. Sure there are guys who throw harder, make their pitches move more, and are better athletes. What Maddux does is force you into mistakes by not making any. He wants his 86 mph fastball to turn into a weak ground ball to the second baseman. The Panthers want their 5-7 wide receiver to run a perfect 12-yard curl route that gets immediately tackled. They want their 5-10 nose tackle to get leverage underneath your 6-4 center. They want YOU to make the mistakes because they don’t make any.
High quality FCS opponents are tough to play early in the season for those reasons. Even worse is when that underdog gets to spite the very school that passed over all of their guys.
Not all is lost though, Cyclones. To beat a team like this, you take them out of their game. You get them into position that they are uncomfortable with. You get them into situations that takes your talent and size and battles their power and size. You get them into positions to make them make mistakes. If you can do this, you will win the game and be off to a good start to the season. If you allow them to play the game, though, you allow them to say what they wanted to say all along.
“Remember us? We’re the ones that weren’t good enough to play for you. We’re going to make you regret the day you passed on us.”