The Northern Illinois Huskies took the #19 San Diego State Aztecs down to the wire before two late turnovers killed the Huskies’ chances of an upset. The Aztecs walked away with a 34-28 victory but what can NIU fans take away from the game?
1. Santa’s decision making might not be as great as we thought
Daniel Santacaterina played well for most of the first half but struggled in the final 35 minutes of the game, including throwing a pick-six late in the first half and two interceptions in the final three minutes of the game that sealed the win for the Aztecs. Santa, who finished 24/39 for 269 yards, was able to keep NIU close for most of the game. However, his decision making late in the contest was suspect and his two late picks, one of which was an under thrown ball at the two yard line that could have tied the game with three minutes to go, ended up costing the Huskies the game in the long run. He’s still the QB I want leading the team out there in the coming weeks…but he might not be the savior the Huskies are looking for (or maybe he is…after all, he’s only a sophomore).
2. Jordan Huff might be better than Rashaad Penny?
Jordan Huff compiled his best game of the season so far, finishing with 148 yards on 25 carries and really helped push NIU’s offense forward when the passing game would struggle. Rashaad Penny, the Heisman-hopeful for SDSU, finished the game with just 107 yards on 25 carries (his lowest mark of the season so far) and zero touchdowns. So either NIU’s defense is amazing against the run (it is!) or Huff should also be a running back to watch moving forward (he is!).
3. NIU’s pass attack can be effective after all
Santa’s deep accuracy was actually really good and he was able to find his receivers for big gains most of the game. He hooked up with Christian Blake on a perfectly thrown ball in the first quarter that resulted in a 34-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7 all. Then, on the opening drive of the second half, he hit Spencer Tears for an 81-yard TD pass. Santacaterina’s deep ball accuracy, and overall accuracy, was actually pretty successful all night. NIU hasn’t seen a QB that could throw this well since Chandler Harnish. It’s nice to see such a successful passing attack...even if we can’t win every game.
4. The Huskie defense can play against anyone
I know I’ve said for weeks now that NIU’s defense is legit…well, that’s something that the Aztecs just learned too. Christian Chapman finished just 10/19 for 136 yards, although he did have two touchdown passes. But the biggest shock was that NIU shut down Penny for most of the game. As mention before, he had a season-low 107 yards and was held to just 4.3 yards per carry (his previous lows were 128 yards and 5.5 yards/carry) and, for the first time this year, Penny didn’t find the end zone. One of the most prolific rushing offenses in the NCAA, which averaged 227 yards per game and 4.91 yards per carry, was held to a mere 127 yards on 36 carries (3.52 yard per rush). The defense did their job all game and, if not for the opening kick-off that was returned for a TD and the pick-six late in the first half, NIU could have left San Diego victorious.
5. The MAC should be worried
NIU might only be 2-2 right now but the MAC teams that are unfortunate enough to play the Huskies this year should be shaking in their boots. The defense has shown week after week that points against the Huskies come at a premium and that, whether you use a run heavy offense or an air raid offense, the NIU defense can handle it. On offense, under Santacaterina, NIU has moved the ball pretty well and can score both on the ground and through the air. If the Huskies can keep this level of play up, a trip to Detroit should surprise no one.