Beef’s State of Northern Iowa Football

Hot Beef Take

Before I get into the meat and potatoes of this article, I want to stress that these thoughts are mine. They don’t necessarily represent the thoughts of anybody else. If I ruffle some feathers – good. Some things need to be seen from a different viewpoint or thought of from a different angle.

Now, as it was discussed on Tuesday, December 4, on the On Press Row radio show, there’s a lot of fans who are actually fanatical when it comes to UNI football. I’m one of these people. I want nothing more than a national championship for the Panthers. And I’m sure there’s many people who’ve heard me on the radio with the Sports Guy and Sports Stud, when something needs criticizing, I’ll jump to the front of the line and say it. But I LOVE my teams…all of them. And most of them suck! UNI athletics is about all I have at a chance for a winner. And a few years back, I had their logo put on my left arm.

UNI tattoo

I’m no fly-by-night phony. And one day, I’m hoping I can start putting the words “Football” and “National Champions” underneath that tattoo. But there’s a lot I don’t understand or like right now. And that’s where this article is going.

The one thing I heard more than anything last night was that in order for UNI to be more competitive, we need more money. Don’t we all? I also heard, we need more people to attend games. I agree. Now, I’m good with numbers, but not necessarily business. I don’t know what the breakdown is as far as paying teams to come to the UNI-Dome to play in non-conference games. I do have it on good authority that the school gets 100% of the concessions that are sold.

But let’s assume a game in the UNI-Dome brings 10,000 people. And the average ticket was $30, which is a rough estimate. That’s $300,000. You start throwing in money from concessions, you could probably add a half to that – $150,000. But here’s the thing. As long as you have decent, not even top level, opponents coming in and most everybody KNOWS that the Panthers are going to win, people will come. People want to come and see their team win. And guess what? The more the team wins, the larger the crowds will become. And the UNI-Dome has a max capacity of almost 17,000. If the scheduling was done, to where UNI had six home games, at least every other year? That’s a 10% profit just from going from ten to eleven home dates. Call it 5%, if you want to look at that biannually.

Want to have better attendance in the playoffs, schedule a little easier. If UNI gets it done in the MVFC, they would start getting national seeds. That means no games on Thanksgiving weekend, when a lot of the students are gone. Not to mention families doing their own thing. Multiple home playoff games sounds like a lot of fun to me.

Also, concerning the schedule. We need to play less of these nutcracker games with Big Sky opponents. Sure, UNI has the reputation of, “We’ll play anyone, anywhere”. You know what? We play in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. We don’t need these tough road games to prove our worth, our worth is proven in conference. I did the math a few weeks ago. If UNI would have replaced their road game at Montana with a home game against Houston Baptist, the worst team in the Southland Conference, UNI’s strength of schedule would have plummeted from the toughest in FCS, all the way down to…wait for it…second toughest!

I know it’s a whole other situation get schools to play, not everybody wants to – like almost every team in the Ohio Valley Conference. But this is where I’ve made my point a month or two ago, we should be making every effort to play the schools in the Southland Conference. Why? Because ten of the eleven teams in that conference are from Texas and Louisiana. And those are two of the biggest high school prospect-rich states in the nation(along with Florida, California and a slightly lesser degree in Ohio/Pennsylvania). You want athletes? You need to be recruiting Texas. And there’s no better way to recruit than to play games there. Especially if you’re beating those teams. In the last eighteen years, UNI has played only seven games against the Southland Conference; three with Stephen F. Austin, three with McNeese and the playoff game a few weeks ago against Lamar. In those seven games, only one each was played at Stephen F. Austin and McNeese. Tough to stay in those high school player’s, parent’s and coach’s minds when you’re not around. Worst case scenario, there’s Texas schools in the lowly Southwestern Athletic Conference also. While we’re at it, there’s two Mid-Eastern Athletic and two Pioneer League teams in Florida. Road games at schools like these, sometimes is seen like a demotion. Stooping down. But James Madison played at a MEAC school this year. In 2019, South Dakota State is playing at Drake. If it helps recruiting, UNI could and should be doing it also.

On the subject of recruiting, getting players in Iowa isn’t always easy with two FBS programs within 100 miles. But we’re the top FCS program in the state, no disrespect to Drake. And we have a dome. We have a longer and more consistent winning tradition. Still, finding these players in Iowa high schools is not that difficult. How? You look to high school programs who are typically below average or bad. When that school all of a sudden has two winning seasons, especially one-loss or undefeated regular seasons, you can bet the house, there’s a player that is dominating on offense and probably defense too. I’m not picking on WDM Dowling or Cedar Falls or CR Xavier, but how do you know when one of those players is going to be great? Usually, those schools have a plethora of other Division I, or close, talent around them. Clinton High School was below average for years(again, not picking). Then this David Johnson kid came along. What happened? 8-1 and 9-0 seasons. Somehow, UNI lands him and the rest is history. It’s not that hard.

Speaking of running backs. I love our running backs. But there’s a problem with our team wanting to be a power running team when the biggest of the lot weighs 204 pounds. I weighed 204 pounds in 8th grade, no offense. At that age, I was relegated to playing the line, but I think I’d been better served as a tight end. I digress. A back in the FCS should definitely be bigger than some gargantuan 8th grader. Another thing, if the focus is to be a power running team, where are the fullbacks?

Which brings me to my next grief. The “pistol” formation. I HATE this formation. It works if you have an RPO-type quarterback. If you don’t, you’re hurting your running backs. I’ll get to that more in a few paragraphs. If you don’t have a quarterback who is an RPO threat, he should probably be under center or all the way back in the shoutgun.

The receiving corps needs work. As the season went along, it was nice to see some receivers emerge who actually caught the ball, as opposed to letting the ball come to them. There are way too many dropped passes. Is it the quarterback or the receivers? It’s not always the defender. See too many guys going across the middle who are afraid to get hit. Catch the ball! The rules are in place to protect the receiver more than any time in the history of football. Catch the ball! Another thing about a few of our speed merchants on the outside. We see a lot of play-action off the jet sweep, but almost none of it being used to run. You have to use it a couple times a game to keep the defense honest or the better set up the pass off of it. I think there’s too much of the wide receiver screen being used also. Whenever there’s a bunch formation, what defense doesn’t see the wide receiver screen as the first thing to decipher?

The talk we hear all the time is that the offensive line need to get bigger. I agree, bigger. Not necessarily taller. Having tall offensive linemen makes it tougher for a quarterback to see over. And taller, more athletic linemen are more predicated to pass-blocking. Stout, maybe a little shorter offensive linemen are meant to move the defensive line. The make-up of the offensive line leads into this next question.

What is the offense’s identity? Are we supposed to be a power running team or a pass happy outfit? It’s very tough to be both unless you have a freak weapon like a Michael Vick or a Randall Cunningham at quarterback when they were in college. If you’re going to be a power running team, the recruits coming in should be stout offensive linemen. Bigger running backs, 225 pounds or more and maybe a bruising 245 pound fullback. Get out of the pistol and under center. When you’re in pistol formation, the running back is usually lined up besides the quarterback and gets no momentum towards the line when he runs. Or he lines up behind the quarterback and is ten to twelve yards behind the line of scrimmage, wasting a lot of running just to get back to even. Give the running back a fullback to take on that initial tackler on the edge or up the gut. If you want those smaller backs, they better be guys who can catch the ball out of the backfield. The quarterback better be heady(smart) and able to make quick reads, hitting receivers who are brave enough to run slants and not just fly routes.

What do I know? I’m just a fan. But I am fanatical. Probably always will be. Maybe I know only half as much as I think I do. But you can guarantee, the half I know, I’m gonna let be known. As always…

Growl Loud!

Bleed Purple!!

Go Panthers!!!