In the first game of 2014, the Northern Illinois Huskies defense looked strong. The offense, not so much.
Saturday afternoon NIU held their annual spring game but made it a little more interesting. Instead of just a match up between a split squad the Huskies held an offense versus defense skills competition that including one-on-one drills, a third-down conversion drill, a field goal competition, and ended in a tackle free scrimmage.
The scoring was straight forward: in the one-on-one drills which ever player won would receive a point for their team, a point was rewarded for each successful third-down conversion (out of 15 attempts), and 3 points for each field goal made in the kicking competition.
It was a relatively close game during the drills, as the offense was able to win the Pass Rush and Pass Protect drills to take a 8-5 lead, but the defense caught up, and took the lead, winning the towel drill 10-5 and the release drill 4-2. Entering the field goal battle, the defense lead 19-15. But Tyler Wedel would struggle for the defense, making just one kick, while Josh Orne booted four through the uprights regaining the lead for the offense 27-22.
From there it was on to the third-down conversion drill. There were three rounds and each round consisted of five tries, the distance increasing a yard with each attempt, starting at third and five and going through third and nine. It's also where the defense began to shine. In the first two rounds, the offense only converted twice giving the defense an 8-2 advantage heading into the final round. The offense managed to convert three times in the final round, but the defense still held a 33-30 lead going into the scrimmage.
For the tackle-free scrimmage, there would be 13 drives starting from the 15-yard line. The offense would earn points for each touchdown (7) and field goal (3), while the defense received points for each stop before midfield (2), each forced 3-and-out (3), any turnovers (4), and defensive touchdowns (7).
In the thirteen drives, the Huskie offense managed to pass midfield just twice. And scored just once, a 75-yard touchdown pass from Matt McIntosh to Juwan Brescacin. The defense slammed the door on the offense, forcing five 3-and-outs, five stops before midfield, and even had an interception returned for a touchdown.
The defense won the scrimmage easily, 36-7, and took the Huskie Bowl with a resounding 69-37 win. Which is a good sign, right?
"Defensively there were a number of that impressed me, it was good to see," head coach Rod Carey said in a statement after the game. He went on to praise Perez Ford, a junior defensive end, and defensive tackle William Lee, a redshirt freshman.
After falling behind in almost every game last season, it is nice to see the defense improving. But what's equally as disheartening is how much of a step back the offense took. Yes, NIU lost one of the greatest collegiate quarterbacks, but there are still a ton of weapons on this team.
And yet, outside of the Brescacin score, they were nowhere to be found. Of the three quarterbacks vying to fill Jordan Lynch's place, none of them looked too sharp yesterday. Even Carey noticed that, saying "it was the first day that we went backwards" at QB. But then again, they have rather large shoes to fill.
So has the defense really improved, or did the offense just take that much of a hit? I hope it's the former, but it's going to be hard to tell until August, when fall camp begins and the incoming freshman get a chance to show what they can do.