However, after tying the game at 14 early in the second quarter, the Huskies would allow 22 unanswered points in the final 36 minutes of play and drop their fifth straight bowl game.
So what did we learn?
1. Rod Carey is awful in bowl games
Carey is no 0-5 in bowl games. Even if you let him slide on the Orange Bowl loss (his first ever game as head coach), the next four games are unforgivable. Especially they last three bowl games. The Huskies, in the last three post season games, have been out-gained in total yardage by nearly a thousand yards (1624-757!!), have been outscored 140-44, and lost by an average score of 47-15.
Those numbers are embarrassing.
2. It stems from bad offensive play-calling (and one play REALLY stands out)
Alright...let’s talk about that fake punt. Carey has already said his reasoning behind it and it’s not good enough. Basically he was hoping for a pass interference call...not a completion but a flag on the play.
Carey said “The play before that, they really mugged up our gunner and we thought, ‘if we get an incompletion it’ll be an interference.’ You know, it’s a punter throwing to a (defensive back), it’s a tough one to get unless you can get an interference.”
If you knew it was such a tough one to get...WHY RUN THAT PLAY FROM YOUR OWN 11!!!!! Wait until you’re close to midfield or something but having your punter throw it from his own end zone is crazy! Especially in a one score game in the first quarter.
Carey’s offensive play calling has gotten worse and worse and, if he wasn’t bailed out by the strong Huskie defense on multiple occasions this year, NIU probably would have been 4-8 instead of 8-5.
3. The Huskies got away from their A-game
NIU has always been a solid running team. This year we had four decent backs and a mobile quarterback. But the Huskies chose to rely on the passing attack early on against Duke...and then, once they went down 14-0, they had to lean on Childers’ arm even more.
The Huskies never really tried to establish a run game. Instead opting for a slew of jet sweeps, read-options, and QB keepers that didn’t amount to much. But instead of trying other options, Carey continued to stick with plays that didn’t work...but what else is new.
4. Childers looked a lot better on deep passes
Freshman QB Marcus Childers had been over-throwing his deep passes all season long. However, in the Quick Lane Bowl, his accuracy on passes over 20-yards looked a lot better. He completed two passes of 40+ yards and should have had a third but it was dropped by Christian Blake. If he can continue to improve his throws like that, the future is bright for him.
5. Next season might be a tough one...
NIU has a ton of returning talent next year and all the parts that should make them a MAC West contender.
The defense will get back some key players like Kyle Pugh and should be even stronger. The offense is young and should continue to grow and improve.
But (at the moment) they still have Rod Carey as a coach...and have an insane non-conference schedule. NIU plays Utah at home then plays on the road against Iowa, Florida State, and BYU.
Hopefully NIU can find an offensive identitiy (although, under Carey NIU’s offense has gotten worse and worse each year) and the defense can play to the same level (or better) than it did this season. Otherwise...NIU fans are in for a long 2018