CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- When Mark Farley popped in North Dakota State's game film to begin preparations for Northern Iowa's trip to Fargo Saturday, Farley saw a lot of things he's already seen before.
The Bison (7-0 overall, 4-0 Missouri Valley Football Conference), ranked No. 2 in both current FCS polls, have one of the top-ranked rushing offenses in the nation, and its defense is the only FCS defense that is allowing less than 200 yards per game.
Those kind of numbers don't surprise Farley or the Panthers.
"To me it is very simple, the visuals are very similar as I watch them from all the years," Farley said. "I don't see a lot of differences. You see the numbers change and players change, but the type of team and personality of the team and they way they play is very similar."
The Panthers (4-3, 3-1) are coming off back-to-back wins over top 10 opponents and would love nothing more to make it three in a row in game that with a win would move UNI into first place in the Valley.
"They have talented players all over the board, but as long as we stay locked in we will be fine," UNI wide receiver Daurice Fountain said. "It's crazy ... I did not know we'd be playing for first, so I'm fired up. Like I said, we have to stay focused, dialed in."
To have a chance, UNI needs to capitalize on all opportunities it receives. In beating Western Illinois last week, the Bison held the Leathernecks to 216 total yards and four field goals. Opponents are averaging only 192.7 total yards against NDSU, including just 72.1 rushing yards.
The Bison are a plus 11 in turnover margin.
"It means not making any mistakes," Panther quarterback Eli Dunne said. "We can't have penalties. Every opportunity we get against these guys means a lot throughout the football game. Not making mistakes and capitalizing on opportunities where ever they are is going to be real important for us."
Opponents have reached the red zone just 12 times against NDSU this season, and have scored just five touchdowns.
"We emphasize it a bunch," NDSU head coach Chris Klieman said of red-zone defense. "We have good red zone periods against our offense throughout the week, speed against speed. It is a mindset. We always talk that field goals should not beat you.
"If they are getting into the red zone and not getting touchdowns you have a chance to win."
UNI also needs to finish as it has the previous two weeks in victories over South Dakota State and Youngstown State. In each of its last three trips to Fargo, the Panthers have led at halftime and have lead after three quarters in two of those games.
Additionally, UNI knows it will have to be focused and locked in to be able to operate in the Fargodome's loud environment.
"There are only a few places that can create that kind of environment and they are one of them," Farley said. "It is something we all need to make sure we prepare for as a team and adjust as it unfolds. We are going to have to have great focus."
Klieman sees a UNI team playing at a different level, especially since the return of running back Marcus Weymiller and what he has done to help the offense become more balanced. Weymiller rushed for 303 yards in the victories over the Jacks and Penguins.
"They have been able to run the football," Klieman said. "That is the biggest thing. I think there is a big difference if you are able to run the football, everything is much better. Special teams are better, your defense is better because you are not on the field as much."
NDSU may be without former Waterloo West star Lance Dunn, who leads the MVFC in rushing per game (90.6) and rushing touchdowns (12) after he suffered a hip injury late in the Bisons' victory over Western Illinois last week.
"I would say he would be doubtful for this week, but I will learn more today," Klieman said on Monday. "I know the MRI was today. He is not going to practice today and tomorrow. With a hip, I don't know if a lot of us know how that will respond.
"There is the potential .... in the same respect we are going to be smart with him because we need him for the long haul."
If Dunn can't go NDSU will turn to Bruce Anderson, who ranks fifth in the Valley in rushing averaging 80.0 yards per game. The Bison also get back Ty Brooks, who has missed recent games with a hamstring, and reports out of Fargo say NDSU has been testing Dimitri Williams in the backfield as well in case both Brooks and Dunn can't play.