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VIEWS: Concerns legit for NIU, Kill

Published: Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010 11:11 p.m. CST • Updated: Friday, Sept. 3, 2010 1:12 a.m. CST

AMES, Iowa – Per usual, Northern Illinois managed to make it interesting into the fourth quarter.

The script is a familiar one by now (Wisconsin last year, Central Michigan in 2008, the Independence Bowl against Louisiana Tech, etc.). The Huskies dig a huge hole, look inept at times and then look like world-beaters at various points of a frantic comeback.

The result for these types of games for the Huskies was a familiar one as well – a loss.

A good Mid-American Conference team went on the road and lost to an above-average Big 12 Conference team. That's hardly breaking news.

Be disappointed. The hype surrounding the Huskies in the preseason contrasted against NIU's first-half performance against Iowa State certainly warrants the feeling of a letdown. Be angry if you want. But surprise really shouldn't be one of your emotions. The team that executed better, was more consistent on both sides of the ball and made the least mistakes won Thursday. That's football.

"We played like it was the first game," NIU coach Jerry Kill said. "That's the bottom line. We played like it was the first game."

What Thursday's game revealed about NIU, though, is that there are concerns about the realistic goal of a MAC title. Legitimate ones.

The kicking and punting game for one. The offensive line for another. The list doesn't stop there (a full-strength Patrick George sorely was missed at corner), those are just the two most glaring problems after Week 1.

"I'll have to look at that," Kill said of the team's kicking game. "The young freshman (Mathew Sims) came in and knocked a field goal down, got an extra point. Our big kid (Michael Cklamovski) kicked the ball off pretty good. He stroked the ball on field goals. It as just a little bit wide. But he hit it pretty good."

These are simple problems, which is the good and bad news for the Huskies.

Complicated adjustments won't make a ball go straight off a kicker's foot or make a lineman finish blocks. They know their problems, what you have to wonder is if an answer is available. The horde of freshmen offensive linemen aren't going to mature overnight. A reliable kicker isn't easy to find. Is he on the roster?

We'll spill enough ink in the coming days and weeks debating the decision to start DeMarcus Grady at quarterback. If the coaches felt he earned the job out of camp, then it's easy to see the logic behind the choice. Grady simply might just need time to grow into the starter's role.

If NIU doesn't fix the glaring problems from Thursday, though, the logic of putting NIU at the top of the MAC West starts to have some serious flaws.

• John Sahly is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at

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