DeKALB – The Northern Illinois defensive line was caught off guard in Saturday’s 55-24 win over Central Michigan on Saturday.
In film sessions, the linemen had seen five-and seven-step drops from Chippewa quarterback Ryan Radcliff, and they thought they’d have plenty of time to rush the senior quarterback and register at least a sack for the fourth game in a row.
But that didn’t happen.
Until Sean Progar intercepted Radcliff midway through the third quarter, the Chippewa passing game had Central Michigan cruising down the field, down just six with the ball at the NIU 16-yard line.
The interception signaled a turning point, and the NIU defense was able to tighten up.
“They did a good job of not dropping their quarterback as far as we saw on film,” Progar said. “Their pass protection up front was different from what we saw on film. Obviously they did a good job of that. We still got some hits, though.”
The running game was a different story. The Huskies held the Chippewas to 136 yards on 36 carries, the second-lowest total by an opponent this season.
Here’s a quarter-by-quarter breakdown of how the Huskies defensive front was able to affect the Chippewa’s offense.
The Huskie defense fared well on the first two drives of the game.
On the first drive, Alan Baxter and Sean Progar recorded hurries and the Chippewas couldn’t get the ball into NIU territory. The Huskies forged their way into the backfield on Central Michigan’s second drive, and Tyrone Clark recorded a tackle for loss before Alan Baxter took down Radcliff, who ran for six yards after being forced out of the pocket.
But the Chippewas' passing game started to click on the next drive. Radcliff completed two passes for 36 yards to receiver Cody Wilson to put Central Michigan in NIU territory for the first time. With the Huskies defensive line charging toward Radcliff, the senior dumped a quick screen pass to running back Zurlon Tipton, who ran for a 37-yard touchdown.
“On the film, tackles and guards were dropping back more,” defensive tackle Ken Bishop said. “I think in this game, they were just focused on dumping it off real quick and not giving us any time to get to the quarterback. “
CMU stats: Passing: 4-for-8, 73 yards, 1 TD; Rushing: 7 carries for 21 yards
After going three-and-out on its first drive of the second quarter, Central Michigan put together a 16-play scoring drive, which included five passes for 49 yards. Four of those completed passes went 10 yards or fewer.
The Chippewas scored when Tipton ran three times for 21 yards on the last three plays of the drive.
“[The quick passing] wasn’t a surprise, but it was something we had to adjust to, something we had to deal with,” Bishop said. “We had to start working quicker moves and squeezing the pocket more.”
CMU stats: Passing 5-for-11, 49 yards; Rushing 9 carries for 36 yards, TD
The Huskies still hadn’t adjusted as of the beginning of the second half.
On the first play of the second half, Radcliff threw a quick pass to Titus Davis on a slant route, and the receiver ran for a 92-yard touchdown.
With just under seven minutes left in the third quarter, it appeared that the Huskies had, indeed, pinned down the Chippewas’ passing game.
After Radcliff drove the ball down to the 16-yard line with three passes for 24 yards, Radcliff tried another quick pass. This time, defensive end Joe Windsor jumped in the air, blocked the pass and Sean Progar caught the rebound.
“Basically, we were trying to get more pressure up the middle, just getting quick pass run and getting our hands up,” Bishop said. “On the interception, Joe Windsor got his hands up, something we talked about, and forced the interception.”
CMU stats: Passing: 7-for-13, 163 yards, TD, INT; Rushing: 5 carries for 29 yards
Radcliff passed for 25 yards on the Chippewas’ first play of the first quarter, but Tipton fumbled on the next play, a 7-yard run.
On the next drive, the Huskies were able to pressure Radcliff when he dropped back, but four runs by Anthony Garland for 29 yards and three short passes by Radcliff for 22 yards put Central Michigan on the 24-yard line. Chippewa kicker David Harman missed the ensuing 41-yard kick.
As the Huskies piled on points, the defense tightened up, and Central Michigan couldn’t cross into NIU territory.
“I think our defensive line played well,” Progar said. “We would have liked to get more pressure on the quarterback, he was throwing quick passes. But at the same time, we’ll watch the film tonight and make some changes.”
CMU stats: 4-for-8 for 47 yards; Rushing: 10 carries for 44 yards