Northern Illinois-Cal Poly Preview: A Chance To Lick Their Wounds

Perez Ashford should help Northern Illinois have a field day against Cal Poly. But will the defense get better against this inferior opponent? (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

If you have ever seen a dog after a fight -- and we aren't even talking Michael Vick-like fights, just a scrape -- it will spend the rest of the day licking at its wounds.

And after Saturday's debilitating loss to Wisconsin, there is no dog more wounded than the Northern Illinois Huskies.

For Northern, there is probably no better way to lick its wounds than to invite Cal Poly to town.

The good news is that facing an FCS opponent will allow the Huskies to get back on track. The bad news is that the Mustangs are another team that runs the spread triple option, not the sort of offense that can fix the defensive problems plaguing Northern Illinois.

When the Hustle Belt season preview for Northern Illinois was published, a lot of the commentary that followed it revolved around whether the defense was being underrated.

After all, practices had gone well for Northern Illinois.

But the final scrimmage for Northern Illinois was a major clue to how this defense was going to perform. If the defense couldn't stop the offense when they presumably could know a good deal of what was coming, what was going to happen when they got into a situation where they were totally blind?

The first three games have answered that question. Northern Illinois has given up an average of 521 yards per game, which is 115th in the FBS.

Now, the Huskies have also not faced and FCS opponent yet, unlike most of their MAC brethren.

And when you go against an offense like Army, you are going to give up yards. When you go against Wisconsin, you are going to give up yards. There probably isn't an excuse though for the same performance against Kansas.

But this is the Northern Illinois defense this season. It will count on the offense to outscore the opponent, not totally shut down the other team.

If the offense isn't working, as it wasn't against Wisconsin, that can lead to a very long day.

You would almost wish that the FCS opponent coming next were someone other than Cal Poly. Northern Illinois isn't playing ANOTHER triple option team this season (although you have to wonder about the scheduling of both Army and Cal Poly. Someone doesn't like the defensive linemen and their knees).

A more balanced offensive effort, or a more traditional running game, would allow Northern Illinois a chance to fine tune its defense, to get some positive experiences for the players this season.

Instead, it will be chasing and chasing and more chasing of Jake Romanelli, Andre Broadous and Mark Rodgers.

Now, the good news for Northern Illinois is that the offense will likely get a chance to get back on track. Cal Poly's defense is essentially unchanged from last season. During that year, the Mustangs took on Fresno State in their only FBS game.

The Bulldogs rolled up almost 460 yards in a 38-17 win which is a good sign for Northern Illinois. Overall, Fresno State only averaged 370 yards a game.

So despite the presence of Kenny Jackson and Gavin Cooper, the Huskies should be in for a big day.

But whether the defense can heal itself in this game will still be a big unknown. It probably won't need much healing before the next two games against Central Michigan and Kent State.

But Western Michigan could provide another long afternoon for Northern Illinois if things don't change.

Until then, fans of the Huskies will at least get three hours of watching Chandler Harnish help pick apart the Mustangs.

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