The Huskies came into this season feeling positive about half of their positions, and having concerns about the other half. After the first five games of the year, NIU is still feeling positive about half of their positions, yet still has concerns about the other half. NIU is 4 -1 and still has time to get those unanswered concerns straightened out. But the clock is ticking.
What We Already Knew:
Cameron Stingily is an undeniable force at running back.
With the mystery injury behind him, Stingily has been the most effective Huskies rusher when given the chance. Unfortunately the NIU offense has been stymied the last two weeks and the carries haven't been there. But it's time to get this horse lathered up and ride hime for 20 carries a game. With the QB play being sporadic, NIU should be leaning on their run game and Stingily is clearly the best they have.
Da'ron Brown is the big play guy on offense.
In a passing attack that's been suspect up until now, only Brown has regularly made the kind of plays that can change a game. Da'ron Brown's speed was the difference for NIU in it's two road wins. He scored from 54 yards out late in the fourth quarter at UNLV, and scored from 59 yards out late in the fourth quarter at Northwestern. Both scores gave NIU the winning margin. Running should still be this teams focus, but the deep ball needs to be there on occasion.
NIU's line backers are good. Really good.
In what Huskies fans were counting on to be the strength of NIU's defense, the linebacking core has not disappointed. Boomer Mays, Rasheen Lemon and Sean Folliard have all been outstanding so far. The return of Jamaal Bass means this unit will only get deeper and better. Michael Santacaterina has been playing as good as ever. A very athletic group that has helped this Huskies defense be the top of the MAC.
What We Didn't Know:
NIU's offensive line is good, not great.
Jordan Lynch may have helped this line look a little better than it was last year, but the run game is averaging 1.9 yards a carry and 55 yards a game less than last year. While continuity and experience are important for an offensive line, we may sometime over emphasize it's impact on true quality. Yes, the Huskies' line has played together for the last two seasons, but when they've come up against some quality opposition they have struggled. They haven't been terrible by any means, but they haven't been the kind of line that controls the game and sets a tone that many thought they could be.
Rod Carey won't make a final decision.
It's only his second year as a head coach and admittedly he's had some tough choices to make. He has three quarterbacks and five running backs in his backfield talent pool to choose from. Yet Carey has seemed to never fully commit to a single one of them. Just when we thought Hare was the guy, we see Maddie come in. I understand the "hot hand", or even "cool hand" approach, but at some point your guy is your guy. If he has a bad quarter you ride it out and let him learn. When Matt Mcintosh comes back soon are we going to see even more of a rotation at who's taking snaps?
Running back by committee is more common and can make sense if there's no top dog, but Stingily to me is the best back they have and can wear a defense down given enough carries. With Akeem Daniels not quite himself, Jordan Huff can be a great change of pace back to spell Stingily. Carey should commit to Stingily as his load back and let him do what he does. Run defenses over.
The defensive line is a strength.
With 4 new starters coming into this season, the D-line was a big question mark. So far they've been the biggest surprise of the season. They're the best in the MAC at stopping the run. If stopping the run in the MAC isn't enough to convince you then consider this. Northwestern has averaged 153 yards rushing against it's B1G opponents this year. They ran for 72 yards versus NIU. Arkansas has rushed for an average of 219 yards a game versus their SEC opponents. They ran for 212 yards versus NIU. The Huskies are also 2nd in the MAC in sacks behind Toledo, but NIU has played one less game.
What we still don't know.
Do we have a quarterback?
It was Matt Mcintosh to start the season. After he was injured, Drew Hare came in and looked to be the answer. He has struggled a bit at times and now it seems Anthony Maddie is gaining ground. This was the biggest question coming into the season and through five games the question remains. Do we have three quarterbacks, or do we have none?
It seems to me that Hare is not in a system that best utilizes his skill set. He can drop back, go through his progressions, and has nice touch on intermediate routes. The problem is that the NIU pass game is mostly built around very short routes with the occasional deep ball. Hare has been off on the deep throws and has a slightly slower delivery for the short stuff to work ideally the way the Huskies like it to.
Maddie seems to be the better fit if the Huskies are going to stick to this style offense. There's less reads to go through in a read option attack and Maddie only has to make one decision, hit the number one receiver or keep it and run. He has also been sharp on the deep passes this year when given the chance. And he posses a quicker, yet quirkier, delivery with a bit more zip than Hares'. The question that remains for Maddie is - can he be enough of a run threat to make this offense run the way it's designed? If not, and Hare remains the starter, I think the Huskies need to alter their play book and help Hare succeed in a offense that is better suited for his talents.