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Five Things Learned: Central Michigan at Northern Illinois

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What were the biggest take aways from NIU’s 24-16 victory

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Northern Illinois Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Northern Illinois Huskies notched their first win of 2018 yesterday when they edged out the Central Michigan Chippewas 24-16. But what did we learn from the game?

1. CMU might have found their new quarterback

After struggling on offense for the first ten quarters of the year, Head Coach John Bonamego made a switch, pulling Tony Poljan and replacing him with Tommy Lazzaro.

The move sparked the Chips offense and led to 13 second half points and had CMU within 15 yards of tying the game before a late interception sealed it for the Huskies. Lazzaro, a threat with his legs and his arm, accounted for 183 yards in the second half and had both Chippewa touchdowns.

It looks like he could be the guy going forward...at least, I’d start him.

2. The Huskie defense will be just fine in MAC play

After taking on a couple tough P5 teams, and playing great in the first half before fading in the second, the Huskie defense looked much more solid against CMU. The unit had five TFL, three sacks, and three quarterback hurries plus the secondary had four pass breakups.

Even though they still gave up yardage and points in the second half, and watching them struggle with a scrambling quarterback wasn’t the best, the NIU defense continued to bend not break. They also made it three straight games of keeping opponents out of the endzone in the first 30 minutes...including a possession where CMU started at the Huskie 10-yard line.

In the first half of all three games, the Huskies have allowed just 6 points...and that’s pretty damn good.

3. Malik Fountain is everywhere on defense

The CMU linebacker had a heck of a day, netting a whopping 18 tackles and adding a TFL and a sack to his totals. No one else was even close to that total, as the next leading tackler for the Chips only had eight tackles! It seemed like no matter what happened, Fountain was near the ball carrier.

And he’s coming off last week’s performance of 13 tackles and a QBH against Kansas. If this continues, he’s in for one amazing season.

4. NIU’s highly touted offensive line has not looked the part

Last season the Huskies protected their quarterbacks well. This season...not so much. The Chips were able to pressure Childers on almost every passing play, leading to scrambles or passes that were just thrown away.

So far this season they have allowed NINE sacks and seven QB hurries and that doesn’t even include the multiple quarterback pressures that have forced early throws or attempted runs.

Last season the Huskie O-line allowed just over two sacks per game and just 5.54 tackles for loss per game. This year, they’re allowing three sacks and 6.33 TFL per game...not exactly the recipe for success.

NIU will need them to play much better next week as they take on Florida State...even if the Seminoles are struggling.

5. Special Teams for both teams have been...well, special

NIU set up the Chippewas with great field possession twice yesterday as the long snapper couldn’t find the punter. Once, from midfield, he threw the ball 40-yards over the punters head, giving CMU a first-and-goal instead of pinning them deep in their own territory. The next snap was low and bounced off the turf before the punter could get it...giving CMU the ball again in great field position at the 30-yard line.

For CMU, they were only able to muster 3 points off of those mistakes as their kicker shanked a 25-yard field goal wide left, never having a chance. Then, right before half, Sutton Smith exploded through the line and blocked a CMU punt to set up NIU’s second touchdown of the game.

The one bright spot in special teams play has been the Huskies’ ability to block kicks. They now have a block in each game (a field goal and two punts).