And although the defense mostly held UNI in check, the Panthers found themselves on the verge of a breakout only to come up short. Terrence Freeney and Richard Carter combined for 98 yards on 28 carries, while quarterback Tom Petrie hit on 21-of-32 passes for 142 more.
"We were very inconsistent overall on offense, but at times we were close and had chances to make big plays," said McCarney. "Defensively, we got no takeaways or turnovers. It was a great job of UNI holding onto it and a poor job by us forcing turnovers. They just kept hanging in there and hanging in there. I'm proud of my kids to come back and win the game.
"I thought Austin Flynn did a lot of good things for a first-time starter. The one interception that he threw was a deflected pass. He ran for a touchdown and threw for another. He should be a much better quarterback next week than he was tonight, just from learning and getting experience."
Flynn made a pair of nice passes in his debut performance to give Cyclone fans hope for the future. However, one of those balls was dropped by Jamaul Montgomery and cost ISU a sure touchdown in the third quarter. The other went to Lance Young to set up a first-quarter field goal by Adam Benike.
"This was my first game out there and I was pretty excited and nervous with a few butterflies," said Flynn, who also netted 67 yards on the ground. "I felt good out there and was confident. I thought I played OK. It was a learning experience for me. We'll definitely improve as an offense."
Although the Cyclones' rushing numbers weren't as bad on paper as it seemed, a developing offensive line made it tough going at times for running backs Michael Wagner and Stevie Hicks. Wagner came off the bench to rush for 87 yards on 17 carries, while the starter Hicks slumped to only 19 yards on 12 carries.
"We probably weren't gelling well together," said Wagner of the new-look Cyclone offense. "This was our first time out there. Us being new, there were a lot of new faces out there. There are going to be communication problems at times and guys won't be on the same page, but now we have this first game behind us.
"I tried to do what I could to help the team get a W. I was reading my keys and did what I could to get the running game going."
Already a man of few words, Hicks was even shorter while summing up his performance.
"I don't think I did too well," he said. "I have a lot of work I need to do and need to get better each week. I need to go out there and play better."
The victory didn't come without a price, as veteran rush end Tyson Smith was carted off the field in the fourth quarter with an apparent broken leg. Details of the injury were not available, but McCarney feared the worst for Smith who had five tackles before going down.
"We don't know," the ISU coach said. "Tyson's got a problem with asthma, so it's delaying them getting into the X-Ray. We haven't gotten a report, but my guess is that it's serious. He was in a lot of pain on the field. Whether he's out for the season, two games, surgery, no surgery it's too early to tell. I don't know. If it is serious, at least he does have a redshirt and would be able to come back the next year. It breaks your heart. My thoughts and prayers are with him."
True freshman Jason Berryman, who had already hit the field as Smith's backup, replaced him in the lineup and could be asked to play a bigger role in future weeks.
ISU will try to improve on Saturday's lackluster performance next weekend against Ohio at 1 p.m. in Jack Trice Stadium.