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Northern Illinois' offensive woes begin at the end

The Huskies have found their new offensive line in over their heads at times. Is a small change in the formation a part of the problem?

Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

If there is one thing NIU fans could count on, it's a strong Huskies offense.  This year was going to be no different. Even more so after the season opener as it was obvious that Drew Hare had found the touch on his deep ball. That's it; game, set, and match, NIU. That was the last puzzle piece needed for this offense to be great.

Yet after two average outings against really bad defenses, and then two terrible outings against two great defenses, the tables have turned. The NIU offense is a mess and there's not enough fingers on a single hand to point out who's fault it is.

So how did the teams biggest strength become their biggest question mark? What could have changed so much since last year? Maybe there is one thing different this year than in years past.

If I could sum it up in two words it would be this: Tim Semisch. The former Huskie tight end who was really just a slimmed down tackle in disguise. There was a reason Semisch, who is now on the Miami Dolphins practice squad, only caught ten passes during his entire Huskies' career. It was not so much a reflection of his pass catching abilities, but more so about his tremendous blocking ability and the offensive scheme.

Over the last few seasons, NIU has rarely incorporated the tight ends into the passing game. Also, during that very same period, the Huskies also had very good tackles on the O-line. By keeping Semisch in to block along side these experienced, quality tackles, the NIU offensive line was quite stout.

Through four games this year, the current tight ends of Desroy Maxwell(Sr) and Shane Wimann(So) have been deployed out into the passing game with greater frequency. The duo has 15 catches in total so far. In 2014, the combination of Semisch, Luke Eakes and Desroy Maxwell had a season total of 19 receptions.

Combine the inexperience and growing pains of  the new starting tackles with less help coming from the tight end position and you end up with an extra leaky O-line. Not to mention the need for the tight end to seal off the edge on sweeps and screens.

Do we put this all on Coach Carey? Not totally. From what I've seen of  Maxwell and Wimann, they just don't block well. They're strength is at being a receiver. If you're going to just whiff on your blocks, you're probably of more use to the offense running patterns and occupying some of the coverage.

It's not that I'm saying the offenses troubles are all due to the tight end position. That's overstating things. Everyone has had a hand in this early debacle. But we all knew coming into the season that this new line was going to be a question mark. Based on the prior success NIU's had at transitioning from player to player at this position, I think most of us felt the line would be adequate at worst.

It has not been adequate. Far from it. And with that failure comes a domino effect. Everyone feels rushed. Calmness becomes panic. Then confidence is lost.

Having tackles that the opposing team can attack defensively puts the offense at a big disadvantage. The difference between success and failure for an offense is sometimes just one second away. Case in point last week at Boston College. Down three on the Huskies final drive, NIU had second and five at the Eagles 35 yard line. The Huskies went for the win with a deep ball to TommyleeLewis(a call which I loved). Lewis had beaten the BC corner on a deep post pattern by five yards. The line backer had dropped back into deep coverage, but not deep enough to defend Lewis. Outside of a horrible pass, this play very well could have been a game winning touchdown.

Unfortunatley it was not and here's why.  Right tackle Lincoln Howard was left alone, one on one with the BC left end Mehdi Abdesmad . With no help to his outside, Howard was completely faked out by first step to his right, then beaten badly to his inside.  Abdesmad had a completely free run at Drew Hare. Hare in turn  hurried his throw and then was obliterated. The video below:

Howard Miss

Three terrible outcomes came next from one player being burned. First, NIU missed out on a possible winning score. Second, the BC linebacker should have easily picked off Hare's rushed, and under thrown pass which would have ended the game, but he dropped it. Third, the quarterback was creamed while being totally exposed.

I'm not placing all the blame of the offense's problems on the new lineup of O-linemen. One of the times they did gave Hare time to throw a deep ball, Drew missed an open Lewis with no one behind him to prevent a long touchdown.

What I'm suggesting is that this group was an unknown commodity coming into the season.  I think it is the wrong season to try and incorporate the tight end into the passing offense more.  And if they don't have any tight ends who can block, well, sometimes you just can't get every type player you need.

So for now we wait and hope the line gels and the offense gets in sync.  Much like a deep pass route, this unit will take more time to develop.  But with conference play beginning, is there enough time for this process to be completed?