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Five Things Learned: Utah Utes at Northern Illinois Huskies

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What did we take away from Utah’s 17-6 victory?

Duke v Northern Illinois Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Northern Illinois Huskies dropped their home opener Saturday night when the Utah Utes came to DeKalb and walked away with a 17-6 victory. So what did we take away from the game?

1. Rod Carey shouldn’t be allowed to call an offensive play

The Huskies biggest issue has been the lack of offense under Head Coach Rod Carey.

Over his stint as coach, the Huskies have gone from averaging 39.6 points per game in 2013 to 28.9 last year...to now averaging 6.5 (granted, yes we’re only two games in). But every season has seen the Huskies score less and move the ball less.

Last year NIU was 93rd in total offense, with 377.8 yards per game. This season we’ve only gained 439 total yards...that less than 220 per game.

Fans (myself included) have criticized him for only running the same five plays over and over and over so it’s no wonder than the opposing defenses are able to figure it out and stop the Huskie offense...

The only nice thing to say about Carey’s offensive play calling is...at least it’s been consistent (both in the same plays he runs and the steady decline in production we’ve seen over the past half decade).

2. The defense is still pretty good...they just get tired in the second half

Last week I said that the Huskie D might not be as good as we thought...and I don’t think that’s necessarily the case after this week.

This week it was nice to see the Huskies get more pressure on the opponent. After just 2 TFL and a single sack last week, NIU had 14 TFL and 6 sacks against Utah.

The defense has played rather solid. From making open field tackles, to decent pass coverage, to blocking a punt and a field goal, NIU has barely allowed opponents to do anything in the first 30 minutes of the game.

However, with the Huskie offense continuing to have 3-and-out after 3-and-out...it can get a overwhelming for the defensive unit and we’re seeing that on the scoreboard.

1st-half points allowed - 3
2nd-half points allowed - 40

NIU needs to see more of an offense, especially in the second half, if they want to keep that defense fresh and playing well.

3. Third downs are awful for NIU

The Huskies went 7-20 on third downs yesterday. Last week they were an abysmal 3-12. They’re converting on 31.25% of their attempts...which is not good. At all.

And SEVEN of the missed conversions came on 3rd-and-3 or less! Even at that short distances, the Huskies struggle. They’ve had 15 attempts on 3rd-and-3 or less and converted just eight times.

Bad play calling and poor reads on read options have doomed the Huskies here. If NIU wants to succeed, they’ll need to convert on more than just 33% of their third down plays.

4. Marcus Childers is an enigma

Childers has flashes of brilliance. But he also has moments that make you go “what the hell was that?”.

For example...the pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, that was an awful decision. The defender read his eyes the whole way and the receiver never had a chance at that ball.

He also has struggled some with the read option at times but, against Utah, he made the right read more often than not and helped the offense keep some drives alive.

Childers is only a sophomore so he has plenty of room and time to grow, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can under Carey. After all, we all thought Ryan Graham was going to do well too and look what happened to him.

5. Sutton Smith is still a force to reckon with

Smith, after having a slow day against Iowa, showed that he’s still going to be a big problem for defenses in this game. He tallied up eight tackles (six solo), 4.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks.

He was able to rush more effectively off the edge in this game and really put a lot of pressure on the Utes’ quarterback and running backs.

If he’s able to do this against P5 teams...the rest of the MAC should be very scared when playing the Huskies defense.