CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — The University of South Dakota and Northern Iowa football teams have executed a reverse.
The Coyotes, who couldn't win a Missouri Valley Football Conference game in their first season of full membership, have suddenly won two straight. UNI, the program with 16 MVFC titles on the resume, has dropped consecutive league games and shares the bottom rung in the standings with Indiana State.
When USD comes to the UNI-Dome Saturday for a 4 p.m. game against the Panthers, all of that could change. UNI could rediscover the level of play that brought four consecutive wins to start 2013, injuries notwithstanding. The Coyotes, facing the toughest part of their schedule, may begin a long descent.
Nothing, though, is a sure thing. If UNI wants to reverse course again and begin winning, it must deal with the challenges posed by South Dakota and its own problems.
"I do know we've gotta perform a lot better than we did the other night," said Farley, referring to the 24-17 overtime loss to Southern Illinois. "It's not getting any easier this week. South Dakota is play excellent ball."
The Coyotes began the year by losing three of their first four games, including the MVFC opener at Western Illinois, 24-10. Then Missouri State, the same team that blew out Illinois State, came to the Dakota Dome. USD, after losing its first nine league games, knocked off the Bears, 17-14.
After that, Indiana State visited Vermillion. Shakir Bell, the Sycamores' star running back, played at less than full strength and USD dominated play. The Coyotes, overcoming four turnovers, scored a fourth-quarter touchdown and beat ISU, 17-14.
Said South Dakota head coach Joe Glenn. "I think our defense is playing pretty well, and I think we're pretty athletic compared to a year ago."
South Dakota is ranked first in the MVFC and nationally in pass efficiency defense. Linebacker Tyler Starr, even though he missed part of two games with a targeting suspension, shares the league lead in sacks and tackles for loss with UNI defensive end Collin Albrecht.
On the other hand, USD has struggled to stop the run at times. The Coyotes are last in the league in yards per game allowed.
Offensively, quarterback Josh Vander Maten, who gave UNI all kinds of problems in last year's game, is no longer the starter. That job now belongs to sophomore Kevin Earl, who is 2-0 while completing 61 percent of his passes.
"Much improved," said Farley of USD. "Their defense is much improved, and their offense is doing a very good job. The big reason why they're winning is because the defense has done some things a little bit different and created some turnovers and great field position for their offense."
As for UNI, the Panthers hope running back David Johnson is somewhat healthier with the hip pointer that limited him against Southern Illinois. The search continues for more answers in the passing game to take pressure off Johnson, Kevin Vereen and Chad Owens.
Defensively, UNI has given up 100 yards of rushing to three backs in two games -- Sam Ojuri and John Crockett of North Dakota State plus SIU's Malcolm Agnew.
The last two games have been difficult. Farley, though, said, "I'm not going to go off the deep end about it."
Farley prefers to look at the bigger picture and a 4-2 overall record. He pointed out that the Panthers have already beaten Northern Colorado, McNeese State and Iowa State.
"We've got a Big Sky win, a Southland win and a Big 12 win," added the UNI head coach. We're sitting 4-2 and I think we're in a good spot by record and by everything else."