The Northern Illinois Huskies looked really sharp today under new quarterback Daniel Santacaterina as they bowled over the Eastern Illinois Panthers 38-10.
Both teams struggled to get yards on their first possessions but the Huskies, on their second try with the ball, were able to get down to EIU’s 39-yard line.
On third and a mile (19 to be exact) Santacaterina unleashed a perfect throw into the end zone for D.J. Brown who caught the first of what would be three passing TDs for the new Huskie QB.
The Panthers were able to counter, aided by some NIU penalties, and a costly muffed punt by Chad Beebe that gave them the ball at the Huskie 24-yard line. However, they stalled out at the four yard line and had to settle for a field goal.
NIU’s defense, which was outstanding last week against Boston College, continued to play well and, as the first quarter was coming to an end, Mycial Allen picked off Kimble and returned the ball to the 11-yard line. A few plays later Marcus Jones pushed his way in to end zone to extend the Huskie lead to 11.
Santacaterina would show off his accuracy on the next NIU drive as he went 3/3 on third downs, including a 15-yard pass, a 6-yard pass, and an 18-yard TD strike to Christian Blake that upped the lead to 21-3
Just one play later, on first down, Kimble’s pass would be tipped into the air and intercepted by Mykelti Williams, giving NIU the ball at the 30-yard line. Five plays later they would increase their lead to 28-3, as Marcus Jones punched it in from the 1-yard line.
After another three and out, NIU marched 55 yards on six plays but had to settle for a 20-yard field goal from Hagan with less than a minute to go in the half.
At halftime, NIU led 31-3 and held the Panthers to just 58 yards! Santacaterina finished the half with 190 yards, two touchdown and was 15/19 passing.
The Huskies seemed to relax in the second half on offense as neither team really did much. Late in the third quarter NIU did have a 9-play, 80-yard drive that was finished off by a 1-yard pass to Shane Wimann to give NIU a 38-3 lead.
EIU would eventually find the end zone, but it wasn’t until midway through the fourth quarter. Scotty Gilkey Jr. pushed his way in from a yard out to cut into NIU’s commanding lead and make it a 38-10 game.
NIU seemed content to just run out as much time as possible and the game would end with the Huskies winning by 28.
Santacaterina proved he should be the team’s starter in this game. His accuracy was outstanding. He was hitting receivers on the run, the deep balls were perfect, and there were very few bad throws. He finished 23-34 for 252 yards with three TDs and a pick.
Marcus Jones had 12 carries for 63 yards and two scores for NIU while Huff ran it 11 times for 88 yards.
D.J. Brown led all receivers with seven grabs for 88 yards and Spencer Tears was second with four catches for 61 yards and a touchdown.
The Huskie defense once again played really well. They forced three turnovers and held EIU to just 187 total yards; 127 passing, 60 rushing (on 45 attempts!) and a 5/17 on third down attempts.
However, the Huskies committed a ton of penalties in the game. NIU was flagged 15 times and gave up 194 free yards to the Panthers…that’s almost two free trips down the field! Another area for concern is special teams. EIU blocked two of Christian Hagan's field goal attempts this week. Combine that with last week's fourth quarter miss...and NIU fans are suddenly weary of attempting field goals.
But NIU gets you 1-1 on the year. They will need to play a much cleaner game next week though, as they head to Nebraska to take on the Cornhuskers. We’ll see then if Santacaterina is for real or not and just how good this defense really is.