Aug 30, 2014; Iowa City, IA, USA; Northern Iowa Panthers head coach Mark Farley talks to his team against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa beat Northern Iowa 31-23. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Campbell is well aware of the challenge Northern Iowa’s offense will present when the Panthers roll into Jack Trice Stadium to kickoff the 2019 season on Saturday.
Mark Farley’s team, coming off a 7-6 campaign in 2018, returns a trio of offensive contributors who received All-MVFC honors last season, including first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference and preseason second-team All-American tight end Briley Moore.
“I think one of the things for them is they’ve got a lot of structure back around in their skill positions,” Campbell said on Monday’s Big 12 Teleconference. “Really impressed with their skill players on the outside and at the running back spot they rotate a lot of guys through there. They do have veterans coming back at the running back spot, guys that played really well at times for them a year ago. I’m sure they’re excited about an obviously outstanding tight end.”
The Panthers return seven other starters on the offensive side of the ball, but one of those returners does not come at the quarterback position. Regardless, the Cyclones are certainly familiar with the guy who will be sliding in under-center on Saturday.
It was announced late last week redshirt freshman Will McElvain will take the first snap at signal-caller for UNI this season. The Des Moines Lincoln product, who was the first Class 4A player in Iowa to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single-season, originally committed to Iowa State as a preferred walk-on in 2017, but instead, will be making his first collegiate start opposite the Cyclones.
“To me, I think the thing that’s the great challenge for us is the quarterback,” Campbell said. “I think the world of their starting quarterback. You’re right, a young man that was thinking about coming to Iowa State, obviously, made a great decision for himself and really has done a phenomenal job there. I think the familiarity we know about him is just his true ability and his ability to improvise and make plays. Real talent. It’s going to be a great challenge for our defense right out of the gate preparing and getting ready to play against a veteran offense in a lot of ways and, obviously, a dynamic quarterback.”
Other Teleconference Notes
*** Campbell gave a solid answer when asked about the staff continuing to evolve the defense, especially with four new coaches joining the Big 12 this season.
“I think it’s something, to be honest with you, we’ve literally done every year since we’ve been here,” Campbell said. “Really kind of change with the times. Fortunately or unfortunately, we had to change after the first year with what we were doing. I think there was great growth between year two and three once we settled into a foundational structure and then having the ability to really tweak things a year ago.”
“It’s obviously different coaches in the conference, different emphasis on what they want to do offensively. I think for us just continuing to evolve. I think that’s the one thing about defensive football today is that if you’re not evolving with the times defensively, you can put yourself at a real disadvantage. I think we will and we’ve certainly prepared to do so since our season ended last year.”
*** What does Campbell hope to see from whoever starts at running back on Saturday?
“Give us opportunities to see what their growth has been from the offseason,” he said. “Whether it’s Johnnie (Lang), whether it’s Sheldon (Croney), obviously, whether it’s Breece (Hall) and the question of do we get Kene (Nwangwu) back this week? I think all four of those guys have had really good offseason and I just think really settling into what can they do and certainly with consistency what can they do under pressure situations?”