The Northern Illinois Huskies survived a close game against the Buffalo Bulls this Saturday, escaping western New York with a 14-13 victory in a game that seemed like neither team wanted to win. Three missed field goals and zero points in the second half made for a very dramatic anti-MACtiony game. But what did we learn?
1. Nobody knows which quarterback will play...for any MAC team
We’ve already discussed how this is the year of the backup QB in the MAC and today was no different. The game started with Drew Anderson under center for Buffalo but, after an apparent shoulder injury at the end of the first half, he was sidelined and third stringer Kyle Vantrease had to come in for the remainder of the game.
Sure, Marcus Childers played the entire game for NIU but, once Graham is healthy, who knows what Head Coach Rod Carey with his three QB options. It could be a rotating door of quarterbacks for the final six games.
2. Buffalo could very much be a MAC East contender
The Bull defense has been very good this season (those 71 points they gave up to WMU...are misleading as 40 of those came in the seven OTs), allowing under 20 points per game in regulation and 25.2 points per game overall.
Plus their offense, although held to just 13 points this week, has played really well and has a huge play maker at wide receiver - Anthony Johnson. If he, and running back Emmanuel Reed, continue to play well...they could find themselves close to the top of the MAC East (although at 0-2 right now, things don’t look great).
3. NIU’s defense has a weakness (kind of...)
The Huskies were lucky to survive this game. The run defense, as usual, was solid allowing just 39 yards on 27 rushes (an average of 1.4 yards per carry!!). But the NIU secondary revealed there could be some issues moving forward against pass heavy offenses. Buffalo completed 21 of 34 passes (most with their third string QB) for 344 yards, and a 21-yard TD to a WIDE OPEN Emmanuel Reed.
That’s not to say the Huskie defense didn’t play well. They had four sacks and six TFLs against a team that hadn’t allowed a sack in more than two games. But, despite the pressure, the secondary allowed some big plays that let UB back into the game and might have showed a tiny chink in the armor of NIU’s great defense.
4. Anthony Johnson and Sutton Smith are legit and people need to take notice!
Buffalo’s best wide out, Anthony Johnson, came in to the game as the nations fifth leading receiver, with 631 yards. Against NIU he snagged seven passes for 140 yards, including a nice catch along the sideline that went for 47 yards. That brings his season total up to 44 grabs for 771 yards and five TDs! The 6’2 junior should be able to make a lot of noise heading further into MAC play.
Smith, the prolific sophomore pass rusher for NIU, came into the game the NCAA leader in tackles for a loss and sacks (with 14.5 TFL and 7 sacks). He added to both of those totals. Smith finished the game with four tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1.5 TFL, a QB hurry, and a forced fumble.
5. NIU (and possibly the MAC in general) needs to stop attempting field goals
Christian Hagan lined up for two field goals on Saturday. Neither of them made it through the uprights, including a miss on fourth and one from the 27-yard line. That brings him down to just four of ten on field goal attempts this year! His 40% success rate is worst in the MAC.
After stellar freshman and sophomore campaigns where he hit 9-12 and 14-18 respectively, he has really struggled the past two seasons. Last year he only made 61% of his kicks (11-18) and this year is already worse than that.
It’s time for NIU to just start going for it if they’re inside the 40-yard line...it certainly seems like they’ll have a better success rate doing that than they do lining up with Hagan right now.
Maybe Coach Carey can catch the final few NIU soccer games and see if he can recruit anyone from there...
But, to be fair, it’s not just NIU that struggles in the kicking game.
Not including the WMU/Akron game which is currently on, the MAC as a conference is successful on a mere 70.2% of FG attempts this season which is fourth worst in the FBS. Only the Independents (60.7%), Sun Belt (66.3%), and, surprisingly, the SEC (68.9%) have lower field goal percentages.
Just food for thought MAC coaches.
(If you’re curious, the Mountain West has the highest at 79.2% with the PAC 12 coming in a distant second at 73.8%)