It’s been a day since it happened and all I can think is that the Ball State Cardinals did NOT beat the Northern Illinois Huskies....but rather the Huskies beat themselves and literally gave the game to the Cardinals after one of the sloppiest, ugliest 30 minutes of football I have ever seen.
The Cardinals managed just 34 passing yards but, since most of their second half possessions started in NIU territory, they didn’t have to do much to win the game.
Here’s what we learned from the BSU victory...
1. NIU continues to kill themselves with DUMB, DUMB, DUMB fouls
The Huskies committed a season-high 12 penalties that resulted in 111 free yards for Ball State. In fact, on one of BSU’s first drives of the second half, the Cardinals gained just 8 total yards but NIU gave them 30-yards on penalties and BSU was able to get points on the drive.
NIU has now committed 6 or more penalties in four of their five games (they only had four flags against Nebraska). It’s the reason why the Huskies have only won one game this year.
2. The Huskies seem to lack discipline this season
Piggybacking off of the first point comes the fact that NIU has seemed to lack discipline this year, leading to a bunch of penalties and ejections.
Defensive lineman Weston Kramer is the latest player to get tossed from a game. One of NIU’s best players up front, Kramer was ejected in the second half for “throwing a punch”. And he’s just the newest addition to the rotating club of Huskies who have missed a half due to penalties. It seems like every game at least one player has been ejected for NIU, whether it be from targeting or something else.
If the Huskies are to rebound and make a run through the MAC, they’ll need to play a lot smarter and a lot cleaner than they have.
3. Both teams need to improve on 3rd Downs
Ball State was just 3-15 on third downs. NIU didn’t do much better, going 4-15.
The Cardinals entered the game in the middle of the NCAA, going 24 of 59 on third downs (60th in the NCAA) but have struggled as of late; going 18 of 60 in the last three games (30%).
NIU entered the game ranked 129 of 130 teams (with only Miami being worse). However, the Huskies have claimed the worst percentage in the nation this week as the Hurricanes went 7/15 on third downs this week while the Huskies did not.
Northern hasn’t been able to do anything on later downs due to poor offensive line play, penalties, and getting behind the chains early. It’s been an ugly five games for the Huskies...who could easily be 3-2...but their self-inflicted wounds have left them 1-4.
4. Harbison looked both great and awful.
Huskie fans have been waiting for Tre Harbison to have a breakout game.
Well, he did in the first half and then reverted in the second. Harbison finished with a season-high 146 yards and two scores but the vast majority came in the first 30 minutes.
In the second half, he had 9 carries for just 23 yards and I credit him for two fumbles - one of his and one of which was a bizarre play where he didn’t even have the ball!!!
He fumbled deep inside his own territory, which gave BSU the ball at the NIU 3-yard line and led to their first touchdown. The second fumble came on a play-action play, in which Bowers was attempting to throw but Harbison didn’t get the memo and attempted to grab the ball from Bowers, causing him fumble.
It was a play that defined just how the Huskies played in the second half...stupid mistake after stupid mistake.
5. Both teams will have a tough time in the MAC
For all the talk I’ve done about NIU, the biggest thing is that Ball State is somehow 1-0 in the MAC. However, they are not that good and will have a tough run of things going forward, especially if they can’t get their passing game going in conference play.
Throwing for 34 yards in a game normally means you’re going to lose (unless you’re a triple option team). And, true to that, Ball State should have lost this game.
Based on how they looked, I doubt they’ll win more than two or three conference games...simply because most teams won’t give them such a short field or as many free yards as the Huskies did.
However, I can’t say it looks like NIU will do much better...as they’ll probably hand multiple games to other MAC teams as well.
The Huskies have the ability to do better but, from what we’ve seen all year, they’ll hurt themselves more than anything and lose multiple games this season because of that. It looks as though the Huskies will have a long climb to the top of the MAC this year.