The Northern Illinois Huskies hung in with Utah Utes for the first 30 minutes of Saturday’s contest, as the netted over 230 yards and 17 points in the first half before falling flat in the final two quarters and lost 35-17.
As the Huskies now prepared for another top-25 team next week, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, what can we take away from this game?
1. Bowers gives NIU a passing attack, which the desperately need
Marcus Childers made his 2019 debut in the final drive for NIU but, before that, Ross Bowers showed he was a legit quarterback and can give the Huskies a spark on offense. He finished the game 20/29 passing with 229 yards, a passing TD, a rushing TD, and an interception. And, for the second straight week, Bowers had a pass go for 65 or more yards, as he connected with Spencer Tears on a 75-yard TD pass in the second quarter.
Marcus Childers might have seen action on the final Huskie drive yesterday...but, based on the way Bowers has played so far, he should continue to get the majority of the snaps and lead the Huskie offense.
2. The Offensive Line is still shaky
Bowers was sacked four times and pressured quite a bit. Besides allowing the rush to get to the quarterback, the O-line struggled to open up holes for the running game as well. NIU was held to just 2.7 yards per carry on the ground, netting 67 rushing yards on 25 carries. They’ll need to protect more if the Huskies want to upset the Huskers next week in Nebraska.
3. The Huskies still have a solid run defense
The Utes rely on their halfback Zack Moss to gain yardage and the Huskies (once again) were able to bottle him up for the most part. Moss finished with 80 yards and two scores on his 18 carries. The Huskies extend their streak and have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in their last 17 games. The last player to hit triple digits on the ground was CMU’s Jonathan Ward, who finished with 159 yards, way back on November 24th, 2017.
4. But they still can’t get much pressure on the QB
After two weeks the Huskies have managed just one sack and one QB Hurry and both of those came in the final quarter last week against ISU. NIU was unable to get any pressure on Tyler Huntley all game, which allowed him to burn the Huskie defense for 252 total yards (214 passing, 38 rushing) and two TDs (one passing, one rushing).
It’s something NIU fans aren’t used to seeing, as the Huskies have had one of the best pass rushes in the NCAA the previous two seasons, and something that will change next week when NIU faces Nebraska.
5. Third downs and penalties have hurt the Huskies
NIU has an abysmal third down conversion rate, converting just 18.52% of the time. Against ISU last week, the Huskies were 3-15 on third down attempts (20%) and this week were somehow even worse, converting on just two of their 12 third down plays (16.67%).
And one of the reasons NIU has struggled on third downs so much is because of penalties. In the opener, NIU was flagged eight times for 86-yards. Against Utah, NIU was called for six fouls that totaled 50 yards.
The Huskies have often put themselves in 3-and-long situation, as 10 of the 16 flags have been called on the offense, including three false starts and a delay of game against the Utes.
The Huskies are back in action next Saturday night as they battle the #25 team in the country, the Nebraska Cornhuskers in prime-time. The game kicks off at 7 p.m. (CST) on FS1.