The Northern Illinois Huskies won their final non-conference game of the season as they sneaked out of Provo, Utah with a 7-6 victory over the BYU Cougars. But what did we learn from the game?
1. With or without Sutton Smith this defense is for real
Sutton Smith was again held in check, netting just one solitary tackle against the Cougars. But it didn’t matter because the other ten players on the field can make plays just as much as he can.
Mykelti Williams sealed it with the late interception. Josh Corcoran had two sacks and two TFL. Antonio Jones-Davis had a team-high 7 tackles (6 solo) and added two TFL and a sack. And the list goes on.
When offense lock onto Smith, the Huskies have another guy that will make a play. It’s a defense by committee attitude and it works.
2. NIU doesn’t need an offense, do they?
And, luckily for NIU, what little offense they’ve had has somehow been enough to win the majority of their games.
For the fourth time this season, NIU gained less than 250 total yards (only gaining 204 yards against the Cougars) and, for the third time this year, they’ve scored less than 10 points.
The Huskies were unable to net 250 yards against any non-conference opponent, averaging just 216 yards in their four non-MAC games (they’ve averaged 352.5 in their four MAC games), but were somehow able to go 1-3, after squeaking out a 7-6 win against BYU.
It’s a good thing the Huskie defense is so good or this season would be very ugly, since every win was within one score.
3. Childers needs to get help from his receivers
Marcus Childers is only completing 55.1% of his passes this season but it’s not all his fault. Against Ohio the Huskie receiver dropped EIGHT passes!!! That’s not good.
Against the Cougars, it was more of the same. I don’t have the exact number with me but there had to be at least five more dropped passes...most of which were easy, wide open passes that should have been caught.
The one that stands out most to me was a Spencer Tears drop in the third quarter. On a third-and-7 from the NIU 4-yard line, Tear was wide open, and untouched, when he bobbled and dropped a pass that would have extended the drive...instead the Huskies had to punt which led to BYU’s second field goal.
NIU needs their receivers to help out Childers more because he and Tre Harbison can’t do it all on the ground.
4. NIU needs to play more disciplined football
The Huskies committed 10 penalties totaling 80 yards against BYU,which included a few that extended a couple Cougar drives. It was more of the same from NIU as, against Ohio, the Huskies had 12 for 109 yards and extended multiple drives for the Bobcats, leading to 14 points.
They’re averaging 7 penalties and 58 yards per game...that’s more than half a field per game in flags.
NIU needs to cut down on the penalties if they want to compete for a MAC title because, one of these games, the penalties could end up ruining the Huskies’ chances.
5. This insane non-conference slate has set them up for success in the MAC
While NIU has dropped three of their four non-MAC games, they have certainly learned from the losses and shown they’re still one of the best teams in the MAC.
The Huskies have two of their three hardest MAC games coming up (Toledo on 11/7 and WMU on 11/20) but, even so, they’re in great shape to stay atop the MAC West. All they have to do is take what they’ve learned in these games against P5 opponents and use it against their conference foes.
With a win against both (or potentially just one) of those teams and a victory against either Akron or Miami (both of which they should be favored to win), the Huskies will find themselves in Detroit playing for a MAC title.
Maybe there is something to be said for this hellacious non-conference schedule...