On a cold, brisk night compared to the season opener for Northern Illinois football, the Central Michigan University Chippewas came into DeKalb and handed it to the Huskies.
The NIU offense simply was not able to find their rhythm all night. That stagnant performance eventually trickled over to the defense and contributed to the number of points the Huskies allowed.
Make no mistake — the Huskies’ defense held their own for as long as possible. The game was still very much in reach when CMU went to the locker room leading 9-0.
This was another game in which Huskies hung around for the entire first half only to experience a catastrophic third quarter. NIU allowed 17 unanswered points in the third quarter — and a total of 33 points — before a John Richardson 45-yard field goal put the Huskies on the board midway through the final frame.
The Huskies defense provided stops time after time for the offense, whether it was through forced punts or big-time third-down stands. They slammed the door shut on the CMU offense more often than not, only allowing the Chippewas to convert one of 11 third downs.
However, the Chippewas were able to finish the day three for five on fourth-down conversions with a majority of those coming from two or fewer yards. Including Kyle Pugh’s fourth-down stop right before halftime, there was a 13-play span in which the senior linebacker assisted or was credited with a solo tackle five times. That impressive stretch included a punishing hit on Daniel Richardson to give the Huskies the ball back with a chance to score before the half. Unfotrunately for the Huskies, the ensuing drive ultimately ended in a CMU safety.
A team’s defense can only bail out the offense so many times before the opponent starts to finish drives. For the Huskies, the third quarter marked the breaking point on Wednesday night.
The lack of drive continuity all night gave NIU punter Matt Ference the opportunity to boot seven punts for 264 yards on an evening that featured very few positives.
From an offensive standpoint, the Huskies simply could not get out of their own way. Ross Bowers finished the day with a 50% completion rate, 139 yards, and zero touchdowns.
Bowers was eventually pulled in the fourth quarter in favor of Rodney Thompson, who subsequently suffered an injury on his first drive of the game. Bowers returned to finish the drive, but the Huskies completed this contest with Andrew Haidet under center.
One of the lone offensive bright spots in the game occurred late in the fourth quarter when Haidet delivered a dime to Dennis Robinson to notch the lone Huskies’ touchdown on the evening. NIU finished the game with 13 first downs and a total of 244 yards. Pair those figures with two untimely turnovers and the score of 40-10 starts to make more sense.
The running game never got going either, as Erin Collins finished the evening with 51 yards on 15 carries and Harrison Waylee logged 34 yards on ten carries. The Huskies’ RB duo undoubtedly runs hard, but the blocking in front of them did them no favors this week.
On the other end of the spectrum, the offensive line improved upon their pass blocking efforts from their last showing. That unit only allowed one sack to a CMU defense that recorded five sacks in Week 1.
All things considered, dropped passes and lost fumbles seem to be the theme for the 2020 Huskies’ offense. Both issues will certainly be areas of focus throughout the week of practice preceding their matchup with Ball State.
NIU head coach Thomas Hammock began his postgame press conference by taking responsibility for the loss on Wednesday night. He continued by stating that there will be some evaluation going on at every position and some tweaks similar to this week may occur. Hammock has continually preached that the best player will play, so it will be interesting to see what kind of adjustments the Huskies make before their Week 3 matchup against Ball State.
If Ross Bowers isn’t able to improve his game going forward, NIU could potentially turn to Andrew Haidet or Rodney Thompson under center. Inserting either quarterback would change the dynamic of the Huskies’ offense. Both Haidet and Thompson are more skilled runners and have proven that they can move the ball during a live game. Will Hammock stick with Bowers for one more week or make a switch?
One of the few bright spots from Wednesday night included the second-quarter interception by Dekalb native Jordan Gandy.
The sophomore cornerback previously played some high school football at Huskie Stadium but noted that this was his first interception while playing there. Gandy added that he is excited to be playing college football in his hometown where his close friends and family can watch.
In the receiving game, Tyrice Richie picked up where he left off in Week 1 by finishing last night’s contest with seven catches for 70 yards and several first-down conversions.
Although the running backs did not post eye-opening numbers, both backs continue to run hard and have proven to be a tough tackle for any opposing defense.
On the defensive side of the ball, Kyle Pugh recorded 14 total tackles. Although they allowed 40 points as a unit, the NIU defense played an exceptional game given the lack of complementary production from the offense.
One final note: NIU linebacker Jordan Cole was carted off the field after what appeared to be a serious leg injury.
What’s On Tap Next?
The Huskies will travel to Muncie, Indiana to take on the Ball State Cardinals on Wednesday, November 18th at 6 PM CT. In what is shaping up to be a must-win contest, the NIU offense must find a groove because the defense can only bail them out so many times.
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