Question Marks Surround UNI Offense

Preparing for his third season in Cedar Falls, Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley has probably already forgotten his first game on the job, as the Panthers were blasted 45-0 by an Iowa State team that went on to a 7-6 regular season and Independence Bowl berth.

But with just three returning starters on offense and a lack of proven playmakers outside of wide receiver Marlus Mays, this season's opener for both UNI and Iowa State on Aug. 30 at 6 p.m. could be a repeat of the 2001 matchup.

Farley is faced with the task of replacing two-time, 1,000-yard rusher Adam Benge.

The Panthers will look to scat back Richard Carter and sophomore transfer Terrence Freeney, a prolific Iowa prep rusher that set Iowa's single-season rushing record with 2,746 yards in 2000 at Cedar Falls High School and gained 6,545 yards in his prep career. As a freshman at North Dakota State, Freeney finished as the nation's second-leading junior-college rusher with 1,400 yards.

Quarterback Tom Petrie returns to the field after passing for 1,363 yards and six touchdowns on 108-of-210 completions last fall. Count on Petrie to depend greatly on Mays, who led the team in receiving with 54 catches for 992 yards and five scores.

The root of UNI's offensive concerns is up front, where four of five offensive linemen will be first-year starters. Losing first team all-conference and second team all-American Chad Setterstrom will be a big blow for the unit that returns offensive tackle Ben Deike. The 6-foot-4, 292-pound Deike will have to help a new-look line gel together. Look for John Schabillion, Luke Stigler and Tyler Rawlins to step into starting roles.

Farley's defense figures to be stronger with as many as seven starters returning. Middle linebacker Jonathan Harrell ranked second on the team with 120 tackles, including seven stops for loss and a pair of sacks. On the outside, the Panthers return Casey Tierney, who added 86 tackles.

Experienced starting defensive ends Ryan Arnold and Matt Mitchell will hold down the edge of UNI's defense. Mitchell ranked as the team's fifth-leading tackler with 69 stops, and added a team-high eight quarterback sacks and nine tackle for loss. Arnold made 18 tackles over nine games. Justin Heins and Kevin Stensrud step into starting roles in the interior defensive line.

Former troubled Hawkeye Benny Sapp has found a home in Cedar Falls and, along with free safety Justin Sandy, returns to lead a UNI secondary. Sandy racked up 82 tackles in 2002 to rank fourth on the team, while Sapp deflected a team-high 11 deflections and made 39 tackles.

The loss of All-American kicker Mackenzie Hoambrecker, second-team all-conference punter Derrick Frost, and top return specialist Ben Sanderson leaves a few question marks in UNI's special teams. Look for Junior Cory Henke to handle both kicking and punting duties this fall.

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