The Northern Illinois Huskies dropped yet another bowl game...this time to the UAB Blazers. But what did we learn from the Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl?
1. It was Sutton Smith’s final game
While it wasn’t official at the start of the game, afterwards we just learned it would be the Huskies’ star player’s final game.
Smith, who just set the NIU single-season sack record, announced this morning he would be forgoing his final year of eligibility.
The star defensive end garnered All-American status the past two seasons and this year finished with 56 tackles, 24.5 TFL, 15 sacks, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, two blocked kicks, and a pair of TDs.
2. UAB didn’t need a run game, not when they had Ubosi
The Blazers came into the game averaging 208.8 rushing yards per game and just 191.5 passing. Most people expected halfback Spencer Brown to be a big part of the Blazer offense but NIU held Brown in check all night and allowed just 103 rushing yards.
However, the Huskies forgot how to defend against the pass.
Tyler Johnson III and Xavier Ubosi lit up the secondary and the Blazers had surpassed their average passing yards early in the second quarter. Johnson threw for 373 yards, four TDs, and a Ubosi was the beneficiary to most of those yards, finishing the game with seven catches for 227 yards and three TDs...all three scored came from 45+ yards and were all simple go routes, with the Huskie defenders just unable to keep up with his speed.
3. Childers has grown as a passer
As the season progressed, so too did the Huskies offense (some). Childers, since the Ohio game, had looked like a much more consistent QB and, as he’s only a sophomore, he’ll hopefully continue to grow and learn.
Childers finished the game with pretty solid numbers - completing 75.86% of his passes (22/29), a career best, for 179 yards.
His throws do have a tendency to hang up in the air, which accounted for most of the 10 interceptions he threw, but, if he can fix that this off-season, the Huskies might have a legit offense next year...or at least an offense that scores more than 20 points per game...
4. Carey is STILL awful in bowl games
Head Coach Rod Carey is certainly an enigma. He can roll through the MAC...he can play tough against the B1G...but, for the life of him, he can’t get the team to preform in bowl games. It’s like his thinking is “hey, guys were only going to play for the MAC title and all other games don’t matter” and the Huskies’ season is literally Detroit or bust.
Of the six bowl games he’s coached, only one has been within 21-points, a 21-14 loss to Utah State in 2013 Poinsettia Bowl - Jordan Lynch’s final game. And only once have the Huskies scored more than 14 points...a 23-52 loss to Marshall in 2014.
In Carey’s bowl games NIU has been outscored 232-81 and out-gained in total yardage 2100-1044. Those are ridiculously bad numbers. Something needs to change here.
5. Next season won’t be any easier
The Huskies once again have just five home game and play three P5 teams, all on the road.
It starts off with FCS opponent Illinois State which they should win but then it gets hard. They head to Utah for a rematch with the Utah Utes, then take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln, before ending in Nashville with a match-up against the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Oh, and in their MAC games they also play at Toledo and at Ohio...so the road to Detroit isn’t any better for the Huskies in 2019.