Stop me if you have heard this story before: the Northern Illinois Huskies struggled for a half in DeKalb on Saturday afternoon before pulling away in the second half. A game Murray State squad featuring a high tempo, pass heavy offense dominated for much of the first half, but still found itself trailing by 10 on the scoreboard. Much like the week before against UNLV, the duo of Drew Hare and Kenny Golladay proved to be too much to handle for the opposition.
After a first half which saw Murray State run 53 offensive players, the Huskies took the opening kickoff of the second half and took control almost immediately. It took only 37 seconds for Northern Illinois to find the endzone, culminating with Hare connecting with Golladay on a 55 yard scoring strike to extend the lead to 26-10.
Murray State answered back with KD Humphries' second scoring pass of the day, but a failed two point attempt kept the two possession lead in tact. Six plays later, the Huskies were once again in the endzone, with the familiar duo of Hare and Golladay hooking up for a 33 yard score and putting the game out of reach.
Murray State head coach Mitch Steward said of the challenge of trying to cover Golladay, "Yeah, it's a big one. You're trying to get as many hats in the box to stop the run as possible, but if you're going to do that you've got to be okay to every once in awhile man up those guys on the outside, and you don't want to do that to any of those guys, especially him."
After uncharacteristically struggling for much of the game, the Huskies' running game finally came alive late in the third quarter and into the fourth. Joel Bouagnon found pay dirt with just over four minutes to play in the third quarter. Jordan Huff joined the scoring party early in the fourth quarter, busting free for a 46 yard scoring strike.
When it was all said and done, Northern Illinois posted a comfortable 57-26 victory, but the Huskies have plenty to improve before facing their toughest test of the year at Ohio State next week.
When asked if facing two new coaches in the first two weeks had anything to do with the slow starts, NIU head coach Rod Carey said, "Maybe. I don't like making excuses. Our system is set up to handle about anything. It's harder when you get that, but it's not an excuse. We need to come out and execute."
Despite gaining 643 yards of offense, the Northern Illinois ground gained struggled against a defensive line they should have been able to control. The running game is the biggest reason for the recent success of the football program, and it has to improve if the Huskies want to make their sixth consecutive trip to the MAC Championship game in Detroit.
Of the early running game struggles, coach Carey said, "Well they had like nine dudes up there, so it's tough to run against nine when you only have seven to block. If they're going to sell out to stop the run like that, you're going to be able to throw it."
Despite the struggles of the running game, the play of junior quaterback Drew Hare has to make Huskies fans optimistic. You will be hard pressed to find a quarterback across the country who has played better through two weeks than Hare. After throwing for 360 yards and 2 TDs against UNLV, Hare followed up his stellar performance with an even better one this week. The signal caller finished 29 of 38 for 358 yards, 4 TDs and 0 INTs.
Murray State head coach Mitch Stewart said of Hare, "We knew he was what he was off of film. I'll tell you what we didn't know was how big that joker is. He's a big kid now. He looks like a monster in the middle of the field. We knew if he started letting that ball loose and taking big chunks of yardage, we were going to be in trouble."
All in all, the Huskies are right where they wanted to be after two games, with a 2-0 record. When pressed about facing #1 Ohio State next week, Rod Carey had his typical answer, "Nope, 24 hour rule. Enjoying this one." Enjoy this one indeed.