Last Modified: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 9:41 PM
The school best known for producing quarterback Kurt Warner has a far different offensive weapon striking fear into opponents these days.
If No. 9 McNeese (4-0) becomes the first team to beat No. 5 Northern Iowa (3-0), it will probably have to be the first team to contain Panthers running back David Johnson.
The Walter Payton Award hopeful is averaging 154.3 rushing yards per game and 8 yards per carry. He accounted for all four of UNI’s touchdowns in a season-opening 28-20 win over Iowa State — two rushing and two receiving.
Yet the Panthers are far from a one-dimensional attack. Much like McNeese and the Statue of Lady Justice, UNI values balance.
“David’s a good football player,” said UNI coach Mark Farley. “But I think the balance is the key to what’s making us good so far.”
Quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen has been a master of efficiency, completing 73 percent of his passes for an average of 195 yards per game. He has yet to throw an interception among his five touchdown passes in 69 attempts.
“David’s done very well for us. People look to him and try to stop him,” Farley said. “But I think there’s enough balance there with Sawyer Kollmorgen and the receivers. We try to keep it so we can spread the field out and keep that balance.”
McNeese head coach Matt Viator said Kollmorgen is comparable to his own quarterback, Cody Stroud.
“Watching him reminds me a lot of watching Cody,” Viator said. “He does a great job getting the ball out of his hand. He’s extremely accurate. He maybe runs it a little more than Cody, but that’s not what he wants to do. He wants to sit back there and throw it.”
Though Northern Iowa’s offensive components are certainly dangerous, defense remains the backbone.
The Panthers are 12th in the Football Championship Subdivision in total defense, allowing 287 yards a game. UNI’s pass rush, which has 14 sacks, excels at keeping teams behind the chains. Opponents have converted 23.8 percent of third downs against UNI, the third-lowest rate in the country.
“The scheme is similar to Weber,” Viator said. “Where they’re different is they have a lot more speed on the edges. They play a lot of odd-man fronts, but their outside linebackers are really athletic.”
Defensive end Collin Albrecht and 311-pound tackle Xavier Williams have cause most of the problems for foes, combining for 8.5 of UNI’s sacks.
When opponents make it past the line of scrimmage, linebacker Jake Farley is usually first to meet them. He has 16 more tackles than the nearest teammate with a team-high 37.
As one might expect from a dome team, the Panthers are also solid in the kicking game. UNI kicker Tyler Sievertsen is the reigning Missouri Valley Conference special teams player of the week and is 5-for-6 on field-goal attempts.