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2019 MAC Football End-of-Season Brief: Northern Illinois Huskies

Thomas Hammock’s first season had a lot of ups and downs.

James H. Jimenez

The Northern Illinois Huskies had their fair share of ups and downs throughout the year.

New head coach Thomas Hammock had to deal with multiple injuries, a hellacious non-conference schedule, and a difficult conference slate (facing the two toughest teams in the East).

Finishing the season at 5-7 and sitting in fourth place in the MAC West wasn’t ideal for the team or many of the fans who have come to expect more from the Huskies...but after a complete coaching overhaul there’s bound to be a drop in production during the learning curve.

The Schedule

Date Opponent Result
Date Opponent Result
Aug. 31st, Saturday vs Illinois State W 24-10
Sept. 7th, Saturday @ Utah L 35-17
Sept. 14th, Saturday @ Nebraska L 44-8
Sept. 28th, Saturday @ Vanderbilt L 24-18
Oct. 5th, Saturday vs Ball State L 27-20
Oct. 12th, Saturday @ Ohio University W 39-36
Oct. 19th, Saturday @ Miami University L 27-24
Oct. 26th, Saturday vs Akron W 49-0
Nov. 2nd, Saturday @ Central Michigan L 48-10
Nov. 13th, Wednesday @ Toledo W 31-28
Nov. 19th, Tuesday vs Eastern Michigan L 45-17
Nov. 26th, Tuesday vs Western Michigan W 17-14

The Huskies opened up with Illinois State, a top-10 FCS squad who made it to the quarterfinals in the FCS Playoffs. And, after a tough win against the Redbirds, the season took a turn as they traveled to take on #13 Utah, then Nebraska, and then Vanderbilt - all losses.

When they returned home, they had a double digit lead against Ball State after the first half but slowly squandered it in the final 30 minutes and lost 27-20.

After a slow 1-4 start, the Huskies finished the year by winning every other game, which included three big wins over MAC favorites like Ohio, Toledo, and Western Michigan.

High Points

Ohio Game - The Huskies were down 21-10 midway through the third quarter and the Bobcats had an 89.2% chance to win. But Tre Harbison would take over and score three touchdowns in the final 24 minutes and kicker John Richardson would kick a game winning field goal as time expired to lift NIU to a 39-36 win over Ohio.

WMU Game - Western Michigan need a win to lock a spot in the MAC Championship Game and almost everyone picked them to roll the Huskies. But NIU had other plans as their defense forced two turnovers, including a fumble with 2:10 left to play, and held the Broncos to just 14 points in their season finale.

Toledo Game - The Huskies might have lost their winning streaks against Ball State and Eastern Michigan but they were able to beat the Rockets - which is a big deal in DeKalb. The Huskies jumped out to a 28-7 lead in the third quarter before Toledo started to claw their way back and tied the game with 5:07 to go. But Richardson would once again lead the Huskies to victory, as he drilled a 25-yard field goal with just 41 seconds remaining.

Low Points

Nebraska Game - The Huskies looked flat from the beginning and were torched 44-8. Despite three blocked kicks and a safety by the defense, the game was out of reach by halftime and the Huskies allowed 525 yards of offense.

CMU Game - Like Nebraska, the Chips took control of the Huskies early, scoring on their first five possessions and took a 38-10 lead into halftime. NIU couldn’t manage anything on offense or a stop on defense and was out-gained 615-251 in the 48-10 blowout loss.

EMU Game - NIU and EMU were close at halftime but a 24-point third quarter explosion lifted the Eagles to 45-17 win. Four Huskie turnovers (including three Marcus Childers interceptions) and seven penalties hampered the Huskies offense, which couldn’t find any sort of rhythm. The Huskies had won the previous 11 games against the Eagles.

Key Departures

The Huskies have had quite a few players announce their intent to transfer from NIU but here are a few of the key losses.

RB Tre Harbison - Harbison announced he was transferring before the WMU game and sat out the season finale. He had back-to-back 1000 yard rushing season for the Huskies in 2018 and 2019.

CB Jalen McKie - McKie also announced he would be transferring from NIU after this year. In two seasons he had 74 total tackles, three interceptions, two touchdowns, and two blocks.

S Treyshon Foster - Over his four years, Foster amassed 155 tackles, 11 pass break ups, 5.5 TFL, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, a pair of sacks, two picks, and a defensive touchdown.

TE Daniel Crawford - Crawford exploded this season en route to 443 yards, two scores, and, against Ball State, had a career-high 85 receiving yards.

S Mykelti Williams - Williams finished his NIU career with 236 tackles, 13 pass break ups, 8.5 TFL, three interceptions, and forced and recovered a fumble.

Key Returnees

QBs Ross Bowers and Marcus Childers - there was talk that one or both of these quarterbacks would transfer or sit out next year. But, as of now, both are still slated to be on the 2020 squad. We’ll see if that changes over the next few months though.

LB Antonio Jones-Davis - ADJ got hurt early this season and will be back next year for the Huskies. So far he has a total of 234 tackles, 24 TFL, and seven sacks.

LB Kyle Pugh - Pugh will return from injury to help bolster the Huskie defense as well. In his time in DeKalb, he has 150 tackles in just 29 games.

TE Mitchell Brinkman - Brinkman had a breakout season this year, exploding for 445 yards and three touchdowns on 34 catches.

WR Cole Tucker - Tucker led the team with 38 grabs and 531 receiving yards this season.

DT Jack Heflin - the D-lineman had 72 tackles, 17.5 TFL, and nine sacks in his first three seasons at NIU. He’ll look to anchor the front line next year as well.

Looking Forward

The 2020 season doesn’t look to be much easier for the Huskies, as once again they have a solid slate out of conference. After an early game against Rhode Island, NIU will travel to a pair of B1G schools and play Maryland and Iowa. For their final non-conference game, they’ll welcome BYU to DeKalb in late October.

They’ll get Toledo and CMU at home but will travel to Ball State, EMU and WMU.

NIU should once again be in contention for a bowl game next year but, ultimately, we’ll have to see how the rest of the off-season plays out and wait to see who all will return (especially at quarterback).