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2021 MAC Football Positional Previews: NIU Huskies offensive line

A look at the Huskies linemen for the 2021 season.

Northern Illinois v Miami Ohio Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The 2020 season might be one the Northern Illinois Huskies want to forget. After going 0-6 last year, they’ll look to start the year with a big win on September 4th in Atlanta when they take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

Last year the offensive line was filled with a lot of young players that had no real in-game experience. And, in those six games, it showed. The Huskies allowed 14 sacks and were dead-last in the MAC, averaging just 3.4 yards per rush.

The good news is the Huskies only lost one starter on the line in Benn Olsen. The vast majority of the Huskies return this season and, despite the winless record, there were plenty of bright spots and players showing a lot of potential. Up front, linemen like Brayden Patton, Marques Cox, and Logan Zschernitz stood out and have already garnered preseason honors for 2021.

With just over two months before the first game kicks off, here’s how the Huskie o-line looks like it will play out:

LT: Marques Cox (RS So.)
2. Leif Engstrand (RS Fr.)

LG: John Champe (Fr.)

C: Brayden Patton (RS Sr.)
2. J.J. Lippe (RS Fr.)

RG: Logan Zschernitz (RS Fr.)
2. Tyler Pitcel (Fr.)

RT: Nolan Potter (RS So.)
2. Evan Buss (Fr.)

It’s still a very young front five for NIU, with six freshmen on the two deep and Brayden Patton being the lone upperclassmen on the line.

Along with those listed above, the Huskies also have six more freshmen offensive linemen on their roster - Nate Beyer, Pete Nygra, Matt Schooley, Seth Thompson, Anthony Vacula, and Jack Wilty - all of whom are 6’4 (with the exception of Schooley, who’s 6’2).

Patton will be the star upfront and for good reason. He’s played in 35 games for NIU, starting every game in 2020 and 2019, playing in all 14 games in 2018 (starting eight), and appearing in three games back in 2017. Patton was also named a second-team preseason All-MAC player by Athlon Sports.

Marques Cox will look to impress again this season. The sophomore redshirted in 2018 before playing in all 12 games in 2019 (starting in ten) and starting every game last year. Cox joined Patton on Athlon’s All-MAC team, being named a fourth-team player.

Also selected as a fourth-team All-MAC player was freshman Logan Zschernitz, who redshirted in 2019 (but still saw action in four games) and then played in every game last season.

With a new, less-mobile quarterback at the helm for the Huskies - MSU transfer Rocky Lombardi - the o-line will need to find a way to hold off the pressure a bit longer and eliminate the high number of sacks. And, while the Huskies can’t seem to get any worse in the run game, the line will need to open up more holes for the running backs if they hope to average more than the measly 3.4 yards per run they averaged last season.

We’ll have to wait and see just how much the youngsters up front have progressed since the end of last season but if they still struggle to block consistently, and with a very difficult non-conference schedule ahead, 2021 might not be much better for the Huskies.