NIU's O-line exceeding all expectations
Huskies rank 4th in nation in rushing yards
DeKALB – Get a running back to rush for more than 1,000 yards for the first time since 2010.
Allow less than one sack a game.
Those were two goals Northern Illinois’ offensive line had at the beginning of the season.
Tailback Cameron Stingily is the first NIU running back since Chad Spann in 2010 to pass the 1,000-yard mark. He’s at 1,081 heading into Thursday’s Poinsettia Bowl against Utah State in San Diego.
Although Stingily was the first running back since Spann to rush for the milestone, the Huskies have boasted a 1,000 yard rusher – quarterbacks Chandler Harnish and Jordan Lynch hit the 1,000-yard plateau from 2011 to 2013 – every year since 1999 except for once in 2008.
The Huskies have allowed only nine sacks on the season, a total tied for fourth in the country.
“At this point in time, [the offensive line has] exceeded our expectations. If you would have told me at the beginning of the season we were going to average 300 yards rushing a game, I’d have told you you’re crazy,” NIU offensive coordinator Bob Cole said. “So they’ve done an outstanding job of opening the holes for these guys. That includes the running backs, that includes the tight ends and fullbacks. All of them collectively have done a great job.”
The Huskies average 312.5 rushing yards a game, which ranks fourth in the country behind Auburn (335.7 ypg), triple-option Navy (322) and Ohio State (317.5).
“Being able to run the ball, that’s something the offensive line really wants to do,” senior guard Jared Volk said. “Because that’s what NIU does is run the ball, so we wanted to be the best at that as we could and also communicate the best that we’ve ever been. So that’s something we’ve also done really good this year.”
The group was dealt a big blow when starting tackle Tyler Loos, who suffered a broken leg and dislocated ankle against UMass on Nov. 2, was lost for the season. Loos still was named a first-team All-Mid-American Conference selection, and the offensive line has continued to play well in his absence.
Loos, Ryan Brown and Matt Krempel had been rotating at the tackle spots, with Brown now at left tackle with Krempel stationed on the right side. NIU also has been able to get redshirt freshmen tackles Josh Ruka and Levon Myers some action, as well as junior guard Tyler Pitt.
“Getting that depth,” Brown said. “Getting those young guys in, that’s the biggest thing is getting guys experience in games, that helps us for retooling the line next year.”
Last season, the group was sort of an unknown. It was replacing a line of Trevor Olson, Keith Otis, Scott Wedige and Joe Pawlak. The Huskies then all of the sudden had to replace five starters when guard Logan Pegram suffered a broken leg during 2012 fall camp.
NIU didn’t miss a beat. Next season, Volk and Krempel will be gone, but the road already is being paved for the next group of offensive linemen, a unit that seems to be consistently strong at NIU.
“I’d say that’s one thing that the older guys do every year. Like through those guys, Wedige and Keith and Joe Pawlak, those guys really take the young guys under their wing and teach the little things that they know and [the young players] can learn those things earlier so they can progress to get better and better every year,” Volk said. “So that’s something that the old guys tend to do that we’re trying to do with the young guys.”