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Brought to a screeching halt: NIU offense slowed down in last four games

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The Kaneland offensive linemen — tackles Jake Goedken and Kristian Reynertson, guards Drew Nolan and Phil Christensen and center Tim Johnson (not in order) — are a big reason for the Knights’ success this season. Kaneland are one win shy of advancing to the IHSA Class 5A state title game. Chronicle photo HOLLY LUNDH

DeKALB - Northern Illinois offensive coordinator John Bond couldn't see the field last Tuesday. Some Huskie fans might rejoice at that prospect. When the Huskies took possession of the ball with 2:02 left in regulation down by four points against Toledo, Bond's vision of the field was hampered by the fog. &#8220I was completely blind and relied on the guys below,” Bonds said. &#8220It was the strangest thing I've been a part of. I had absolutely no feel for what was happening. We couldn't even see anything on the (game) film later. We could only see the end zone shot. And that was a wide look.” Bond said he was down on the field at halftime, but went back upstairs to the press box after the fog lifted. Battling the fog, the Huskies were able to drive the ball down to Toledo's 2-yard line with 42 seconds left. The next four plays were a mass of confusion, as the Huskies passed three times and attempted a run on third down. Without any timeouts left, NIU quarterback Phil Horvath was forced to attempt a quick pass to Britt Davis, but the ball was deflected by UT linebacker Greg Hay on fourth down. The failed drive resulted in the Rockets claiming their 12th victory in the last 13 meetings with the Huskies, and potentially could be the decisive factor in the Huskies not receiving a bowl bid. Bond said the fog wasn't the only problem on the drive. &#8220We had a missed assignment where we could've just walked in on one play,” he said. &#8220We had no timeouts left and I would've liked to run a two tight end set with one wide receiver and pound the ball but getting guys in there and then if we don't make it, they'll be slow off the pile and we won't be able to get a play off. I wasn't willing to take the risk. We should've got that darn thing in.” More than a week later, the frustration in Bond's voice was still evident. The loss dropped the Huskies to 5-5 and 3-3 in the Mid-American Conference West Division. The Huskies have to win their final two games to avoid the program's first losing season since 1999. &#8220I don't want to make any excuses for anybody because we haven't played well,” Bond said. &#8220We've got two football games left and have a chance to win those two. It's been a very disappointing season, but we've still got something to play for. We have to find ways to get better. We're facing loaded boxes, not consistent enough protecting or throwing the ball.” The fall of the Huskies coincided with tailback Garrett Wolfe's right hamstring injury. Wolfe, who rushed for 1,343 yards in the first six games, played with a sore hamstring at Western Michigan. The Broncos crowded the box and held Wolfe to a season-low 25 yards to defeat the Huskies. Temple, with the 117th-ranked rush defense in the country at the time, surprised the Huskies by altering their defense to stop Wolfe. &#8220We prepared all week for Temple and on the first snap they show a 4-3 defense and play a cover three behind it,” Bond said. &#8220They haven't shown one snap of a 4-3 defense all year. The first snap is their answer for Garrett. So we decided to throw it. We're seeing things not seen before from teams. It's pretty amazing. A strange, strange year.” Since the Miami-Ohio game, Wolfe has rushed for 190 yards and scored one touchdown. He was averaging 223.8 yards prior to the Western Michigan contest. Wolfe ran for 45 yards against the Owls, 66 yards at Iowa and 54 yards in the loss to the Rockets. &#8220Teams have really started clamping down and tightening the screws,” Bond said. &#8220We haven't managed to find ways to shake him loose. We rode that horse for so long, but you are talking about one of the top players in the country. We probably stayed with him longer than we should have at Western Michigan. It's been a strange season. Teams are loading the box. We see different stuff weekly.” Bond said the season-ending injury suffered by tight end Jake Nordin at Ball State has contributed to the ineffectiveness of the offense. Nordin, a fifth-year senior, was a valuable blocker and pass-catching threat, but Bond said the Huskies miss his leadership. &#8220He's our best leader we have on offense,” Bond said. &#8220He's a tough guy. We miss him more for his leadership than for his play and he's a very good player. By far, he was our best leader we have on our football team.” The Huskies rushed for 23 net yards against the Rockets, dropping to third in the conference in scoring. Wolfe's four-game slide hasn't knocked him from the top rushing spot in the country. He leads the nation in rushing (153.3 ypg) and all-purpose yardage (176.3). Bond said the Huskies must play better against West leader Central Michigan. &#8220We haven't played consistent football, blocked well upfront or caught the ball,” he said. &#8220We haven't played as well at the quarterback spot this year. Central Michigan is physical and they run to the ball and play with confidence.” Bobby Narang can be reached at bnarang@daily-chronicle.com.

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