Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish felt good about the offense after Saturday's scrimmage, and there were plenty of reasons why.
Harnish and the No. 1 offense had no trouble moving the ball down the field on the first drive with a mix of runs and passes that resulted in a Chad Spann 7-yard touchdown run. Harnish led the offense to three scores in four drives on Saturday.
"Everyone just has a better football knowledge, just understands the philosophy of what we're trying to do as offensive unit and I think you can tell that," Harnish said. "The first couple of offensive drives, the offense, we just took it right down the defense's throat. And our defense is a good defense, you can't overlook that."
Harnish was efficient in his throws, completing 9 of 12 passes and didn't put himself or the offense in any danger. There were some issues with clock management in the two-minute drill, with the offense taking 20 seconds to get a play off at one point, but that was the only negative for the No. 1 offense today.
"You can't take things lightly with that defense," Harnish said. "You can't take one play off. They bring it and they bring it all the time. Today, we just got the best of them. They congratulated us today but I know on Monday when we get out there they are going to be fired up."
DeMarcus Grady did a nice job with the No. 2 offense as well, and had more success than the No. 1s in the two-minute drill as Grady led the team into field goal position, where Mike Salerno connected on a 47-yard field goal. Salerno also hit a 52-yarder that just made it over the crossbar.
"Overall, as a football team, we have much improvement to make but we're about where I thought we would be," NIU coach Jerry Kill said.
Grady threw one interception and it came when a pass tipped at the line fell into the hands of cornerback Chris Smith.
Grady would have been perfect through the air on the first drive if it weren't for cornerback Tommy Davis stepping in to break up a pass intended for Marcus Lewis. If you recall, Davis was switched from wide receiver to cornerback midway through the spring, and now he is playing his way into the cornerback rotation. At this point, I would say he has the inside track to become the nickel cornerback.
"I'm getting my eyes in the right spots, learning to focus in on my keys," Davis said. "I'm getting everything taken care of as far as what I have to take care of."
Davis also was happy to get a little extra coaching after practice from his dad, Tommy Davis Jr., who was a standout running back at Iowa State.
"That's my dad," Davis said. "He's getting into it."
Linebacker Cory Hanson continues to make plays on the ball in the air. In the past three days, I can count three separate plays where he dropped back into coverage, read the play and got at least one hand on the pass.
Running back Justin Anderson has been in-and-out of practice so far, but turned in a nice day complete with a touchdown run and he looked smoother on his footwork than he had been in previous practices. NIU coach Jerry Kill said Anderson has been dealing with toe issues and now has a wider shoe that should negate those troubles.
Freshman wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez again saw time with the No. 1 offense, but didn't see too many throws come his way. I think what today proved is that the situation at wide receiver is going to get even more muddled before it becomes clear. That's what happens when you have a lot of freshmen and inexperienced players in the mix. Willie Clark had one of his best days of camp while Perez Ashford wasn't seen too much. You could have flipped those names just two days ago.
Panan Tense started at right tackle with Kevin Skatrud on the sidelines again with a leg injury.
Freshman Jared Volk took about 60 snaps as the second-string center today.
The most surprising thing that happened today? With the referees working the scrimmage, I only counted four penalties. That's shocking to me considering how many young and inexperienced players NIU has on the field at any given time.
"That's unusual for a first scrimmage," Kill said. "So I thought the discipline was good."
Safety David Bryant had this to say about the state of the defense: "We're still working," he said. "We've got pretty much all of our stuff in but the small details and situational stuff we've got to work on. We have a lot of young guys that are starting to play now and they're starting to see some things they haven't seen."
In rookie ball, the most impressive performance came from freshman running back Antoine Kirkland, who ripped off a 33-yard run on his way to a 62-yard day. Although it's unlikely that Kirkland will play this season because of the glut in front of him at running back, Kill didn't rule it out after the scrimmage.
"I don't make those decisions until late," Kill said. "We'll just have to wait and see. The way things are in college football, you can't say you're not going to play anybody because of injuries ... You've got to have them all ready."