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Hawkeyes try to get back on track

Susan Denk, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa –

IOWA CITY – The last time the Iowa Hawkeyes faced the Northern Iowa Panthers, it took two miracles for the Hawkeyes to escape with a victory.

Iowa blocked two field goal attempts in the waning seconds and held on for a 17-16 win at Kinnick Stadium in that 2009 game.

“We came here to win this football game,” UNI coach Mark Farley said after that loss. “It isn’t a matter of if a UNI team beats the University of Iowa, it’s when. It should have happened today.”

The Panthers are back today.

UNI returns to Kinnick for the first time since that game to take on an Iowa team reeling in the early part of the 2012 season.

Kickoff is 2:42 p.m.

That game is fresh in the minds of the Hawkeyes, who went on to win the Orange Bowl that season.

“I just remember going wild after we blocked the field goal the second time,” said defensive lineman Steve Bigach. “Definitely that was a great win for us. It was a tight game and they came out and they fought hard and we’re expecting them to come in and do the same thing this year.”

“I remember it being just a really hard-fought game, not getting very much going on offense,” said quarterback James Vandenberg. “You remember the field goals at the end to seal it.”

“We just go back to 2009, in effect, we were really fortunate to win that ballgame. We all knew that coming off the field,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “UNI has had a history of going, traveling anywhere, and playing extremely well against anybody.”

The Panthers proved that in the season opener.

UNI traveled to Camp Randall and played then-No. 13 Wisconsin to a five-point game.

“I remember seeing (the score) and thinking ‘wow, that was a good game,'” Vandenberg said. “Obviously UNI’s offense got it going there late in the fourth quarter. They’re a really good team. I don’t think it was something that was that surprising to us. We’ve seen them do that to teams before. They’re well coached, they get good players, and they really buy into the system. They’re a tough challenge for anybody.”

The Panthers are 9-22 against FBS opponents since 1985.

But UNI is ranked No. 7 in The Sports Network FCS poll and is highest among teams that have suffered a loss. The Panthers have reached the FCS playoffs 16 times, including in 2011 when they went 7-1 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

The Panthers face an Iowa (1-1) team that has struggled offensively in its first two games – a close 18-17 win over Northern Illinois and a 9-6 home loss to Iowa State last week.

The Hawkeyes are tied for 114th out of 124 teams at 12 points per game. They sit last in the Big Ten in pass efficiency and total offense.

“You can’t start forcing stuff. It’s going to come,” said Vandenberg. “I’ve got to do a better job. We’ve got to be able to get the ball down the field and get the ball in the end zone.”

Iowa’s senior quarterback has not thrown a touchdown this season. The Hawkeyes’ only trip to the end zone came in the final minutes against the Huskies when Damon Bullock ran in from 23 yards out for the winning score.

UNI comes in with a freshman quarterback who has shown extreme poise in his first two starts, the first in one of the toughest environments in the Big Ten.

Redshirt freshman Sawyer Kollmorgen threw for 265 yards and three touchdowns at Wisconsin. He added three more touchdown passes in last week’s 59-0 defeat of Central State of Ohio.

“I’m awfully impressed,” said Ferentz. “I think all of us are, for a first-year starter. That was his first game experience two weeks ago in Madison. We have all been there. That’s a tough place to go under any circumstance. For a first-year player to go up there and play the way he did, particularly in the second half, that says a lot about him.”

Kollmorgen will face an Iowa defense that has shown improvement in each game.

Against Iowa State, the defense continually gave the offense chances to overtake the Cyclones, including a James Morris interception in the end zone that he returned to midfield in the fourth quarter. The Hawkeyes were forced to punt.

“We grew defensively. We just have more confidence. We are more decisive in our play, and as a result, probably played a little faster. So that was encouraging,” Ferentz said.

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