DeKALB – It rained, the Northern Illinois offense went vanilla with the thinking that opposing team’s scouts might be in the stands and, finally, the spring preview was shortened by lightning.
Still, it was hard to ignore sophomore running back Me’co Brown.
With the Huskies down to two healthy running backs on Saturday at Huskie Stadium, Brown made one heck of a final impression on the coaching staff before fall camp begins by rushing for 145 yards on 18 carries, including a 55-yard touchdown.
“Me’co got a lot, lot, lot better,” NIU coach Jerry Kill said. “Him taking all those reps made him a lot better football player, both him and Ricky [Crider].”
That’s three “lots” for a second-year player.
Brown entered the spring expecting to fight with four other running backs in a competition that’s expected to continue all the way through to NIU’s first game against Wisconsin.
With Justin Anderson, Chad Spann and Alan Smith all missing part of the spring, including Saturday, because of injuries Brown had a major opportunity to take the lead in that competition before fall camp starts.
“Most definitely I have [benefited], but you hate to see people hurt because it’s not a good thing,” Brown said. “But the more reps you get the better you get. The better you understand the scheme of the defense. I think I benefited from it.”
Brown went virtually untouched at the defensive line and linebacker level on his long runs and wasn’t touched on his 55-yard touchdown rush.
“The offensive line did a great job,” Brown said. “When the hole is the size of a truck, anybody can run through that. After that, getting to the second and third level, making people miss, that’s my game.”
On the defensive side, the Huskies didn’t cause a turnover Saturday but linebacker Alex Kube said he felt like the defense improved on creating turnovers throughout spring ball.
“I think we got more footballs out,” Kube said. “If you watched last year, I’d be blitzing and they would throw the ball and I would just watch it. This year, this spring, I was determined to go after it.”
Defensive tackle D.J. Pirkle had a tackle for loss and two pass breakups and was arguably the most consistent defensive lineman throughout the 15 spring practices.
“I definitely have more confidence I would say,” Pirkle said. “Last year I was a young guy and I was a little timid out there. I play a lot faster and I know what’s going on more, and that helps my confidence.”
One of Pirkle’s last pass breakups came just before lightning ended the spring game a few minutes before it was scheduled to end.
“The good lord’s taken care of me all my life, there’s probably a reason we got a little rain and lightning,” Kill said. “He probably said that’s enough, let’s get out of there. I believe in fate. We got what we needed to do and got out of there.”