IOWA CITY - Northern Iowa's near-upset of Iowa three years ago was one of the more stunning afternoons the Hawkeyes have ever had.
Hardly anyone would be shocked if the Panthers finish the job in Iowa City on Saturday.
Northern Iowa (1-1) of the FCS made a serious run at two-time Big Ten champion Wisconsin in Madison two weeks ago before losing 26-21. Iowa (1-1) struggled to get past Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference 18-17 before a dismal offensive showing in a 9-6 loss at home to Iowa State last week.
The Panthers are 9-22 against FBS opponents since 1985. That stretch included that 17-16 loss at Iowa in 2009 in which the Hawkeyes blocked potential game-winning field goals on back-to-back plays, an NCAA first, to survive.
That Iowa team went on to win the Orange Bowl.
These Hawkeyes, at least so far, look like they'll be lucky to even reach a bowl.
Northern Iowa (1-1) at Iowa (1-1)
Saturday, 2:42 p.m.
Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City
TV: Big Ten Network
"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."
Playing well against Iowa hasn't seemed all that difficult in 2012.
The Hawkeyes are tied for 114th out of 124 teams and last in the Big Ten with just 12 points per game. They are last in the league in pass efficiency and total offense.
Iowa's impotent attack has been a bit of a head scratcher. The Hawkeyes brought back quarterback James Vandenberg and receivers Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley from a unit that scored 27.1 points in 2011. The offense simply hasn't clicked under new coordinator Greg Davis.
"You can't start forcing stuff. It's going to come," said Vandenberg, who has yet to throw a TD pass this season. "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."
If there's hope for these Hawkeyes, it lies with their defense.
Iowa has been very good so far on that side of the ball, easing concerns after a shaky performance - at least by Iowa's lofty standards - in 2011. The Hawkeyes have allowed just seven points in the second half this season, and none yet in the fourth quarter.
"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 of last week's defensive performance.
Northern Iowa is currently 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.
Northern Iowa seems to be in solid shape at quarterback, as redshirt freshman Sawyer Kollmorgen has been sensational so far. Kollmorgen threw for 265 yards and three TDs at Wisconsin and added three more touchdown passes in last week's 59-0 romp over Division II Central State of Ohio.
Kollmorgen isn't from Iowa, but many of his teammates are. A lot of players end up in Cedar Falls after Iowa State or Iowa decline to recruit them, so getting the Panthers ready to play won't be a problem for coach Mark Farley.
"The players' emotions, from our team, will definitely be high. We have great respect for the Hawkeyes being that most of our team is from the state of Iowa," Farley said. "We have to make sure we do the right things because that emotion will play a factor in the game, and sometimes it's a negative factor. You get too wound up."
There is plenty of pressure on the Hawkeyes as well. But Iowa must strike a balance between playing with increased focus without pressing too hard.
"We are not the most experienced group right now, so I think the experienced guys feel like they have to do a little bit more and there's a fine line," Ferentz said. "If you push too hard, sometimes - I haven't golfed in like 12 years. But you squeeze a golf club, that's not a good thing.