In a game that many considered a trap game for Northern Illinois, the Huskies nearly let off the gas too early before ultimately getting out of Sam Boyd Stadium with a 48-34 win over UNLV. Drew Hare got to start the game for NIU (Anthony Maddie got one short series in the third quarter), the defense nearly blew a 19-point second-half cushion; and Da'Ron Brown stepped up and was big down the stretch again.
That all added up to the Huskies making the contest vs UNLV a lot harder than it should have been, but a win is a win. Time to see how each position group did for Rod Carey's side under the scorching sun in Las Vegas.
Drew Hare was the starter for NIU as expected, and he performed quite well in his first full game. As noted above, Anthony Maddie did see one very brief series of action, but Hare was the main man once more. Most of Hare's attempts were sharp in the short to intermediate range and he had good control of the overall flow of the offense, going 18 of 28 for a total of 285 yards and 3 touchdowns. Another plus was Hare's ability to improvise on the ground when UNLV had good coverage. He rushed 14 times for 74 yards and a score as well. He looked nifty and agile when on the move and had the sense of when to get down as well. Now, the only reason why I don't give Hare an A here is he did miss so deep balls throughout the contest when he had receivers in big space. All in all though, Huskie fans must be excited with the way number 12 performed today.
Running Backs: A-
NIU's host of running backs all saw good time on the gridiron today as well. Cam Stingily was used more this time in out in his second game back from his mystery injury, seeing a bulk of 17 carries for 104 yards, along with two touchdowns. Keith Harris Jr. also got in on the action, same going for Joel Bouagnon. All three have a unique aspect to bring to the table. Stingily showed yet again that he is the bulldozer, moving pile after pile. Harris Jr. has the best vision out of all of Northern's RB's by my estimations, he can shift and cut back with his feet very well when running outside the tackles. Bouagnon has the power and explosion to hit the hole. As a team 331 rush yards were racked up.
The receivers did what they had to do in the game. Although it was Da'Ron Brown who was the big player on the outside for NIU. 6 catches, 138 yards, and a touchdown for the senior who had two huge plays to help NIU fend off the UNLV late burst. The first being his TD to give NIU the lead back late in the fourth. The second being his sideline catch for a first on the drive afterward leading to the brace that gave the Huskies a two score lead in the last minutes. This NIU receiving unit is solid, and even without Tommylee Lewis today, they excelled and showed they can be counted on.
Offensive Line: B+
The men who fought in the trenches were solid as usual vs the Rebels. After an early miscue by surrendering a safety via a Tyler Loos clipping penalty in the end zone in the first quarter, the line settled down, protected Drew Hare nicely and of course they paved the way for the three-hundred plus yard rushing performance.
Now onto the defensive side of the ball, and it is not that great.
Defensive Line: B
The front four gave UNLV's offensive line trouble for most of the night. Although they did not chalk up a whole lot of sacks, the D-Line was disruptive and had a ton of hurries. Perez Ford in particular had a good game, quick off the edge especially. As far as stopping the run goes, the big men up front were decent, the interior line still had some iffy moments though.
Straight away let me say that this group of linebackers is pretty good at stopping the run, but they seem to get slower and slower each game when it comes to defending the pass. Boomer Mays and Michael Santacaterina just looked like deer in headlights on multiple occasions when they had to drop into coverage, giving UNLV lots of space to make throws. This unit can read their keys and fill adequately for sure and blitz well too, but tonight was a prime example of how they cannot drop back into coverage and play pass defense.
I contemplated giving the secondary an F...that would have been too harsh though. This group is young, I get it. They will learn, and it may not come this year even, but it's a process. Although, against Davante Davis and co. for UNLV, NIU's secondary was atrocious. Marlon Moore may have made the pick that could have saved the game, but this whole unit got really lucky throughout the first half. There were countless times when Paris Logan and Albert Smalls were beat in the first half. There were many times when UNLV receivers just failed to complete a catch after getting open, as well as other penalties that bailed out the Huskie secondary. Davante Davis for UNLV just tore it up in the second half and Northern could not find a way to stop him. The same kind of output next week @ Arkansas will not get the job done.
Kicking Game/Special Teams: A
Hey! Tyler Wedel has a new career long FG of 45 yards, and did not miss any of his attempts- accounting for 12 points in all in the game. Without Wedel, NIU does not win.
Northern Illinois has Arkansas on the road next weekend. It is going to be the toughest of the non conference games for the Huskies. The offense looked better with just one QB in for the whole game, the defense needs a good week of practice in order to slow down the Razorbacks who just torched Texas Tech in Lubbock their last time out.