IOWA CITY – It’s the most perplexing part of any Week 1.
Was one team’s strength that good, or was the other team’s weakness that bad?
The NIU football team will be asking that of itself for the next week after a 33-7 loss at Iowa.
So is the Iowa defense that good, or was it that bad of a day for the NIU offense that was minutes away from being shut out?
“Give them credit. There are times Marcus (Childers, quarterback for the Huskies) and I have talked about it, where we could’ve thrown it away a little earlier, stood in there maybe a little bit, but give them credit,” coach Rod Carey said. “But I also think that if we were to execute, I think we would’ve had a heck of a game for four quarters, so it’s a combination of the two.
[Photos by Alex T. Paschal – firstname.lastname@example.org]
NIU finished with 211 yards of offense, a chunk of those coming on a penalty-aided 75-yard scoring drive in the closing minutes. They were only 3 of 12 on third down. It’s obviously never a good sign to see a lot of last year’s problems reoccur this year.
There were flashes. Although shut out in the first half, it could have been six on the board if Andrew Gantz hadn’t missed a pair of field goals. Jordan Nettles ran 13 times for 75 yards, and Harbison added 41 on six carries.
Carey said things sort of snowballed and the Huskies had to get away from the running game a little.
“It was frustrating because we would go ahead and run the ball and be in second-and-medium, and then we had some drops on some throws that were open and first downs, and now you’re in third-and-medium, and that’s a different beast, and you’re in a throwing situation,” Carey said. “Then you get back to it and you run, and then you get behind, and that gets tough. In the first half, we were running it really well, and then we had a holding, we had a sack, and then we had a turnovers when we were down there deep, right after we had done exactly what we wanted to do running the ball. And so, those things took us off schedule, and that puts you in a position where you think, ‘All right, maybe we ought to throw it here a little bit more.’ Like I said, the first half we probably outplayed them, but then we got ourselves with those instances, and that takes you out of what you can do. And then second half, we’re behind and now we’ve got to throw a little bit. So tough day, but I did think we ran the ball effectively – not consistently.”
But there were some familiar problems. An offensive line that gave up five sacks. Childers didn’t throw deep often – and part of that stems from him getting sacked seemingly every time he tried at least a mid-range pass.
Childers turned it over twice. But he also led that late scoring drive. He finished 14 of 25 for 105 yards and a long pass of 21.
In the end, it doesn’t change much. The defense was as good as advertised, until the offense stopped getting first downs. Things escalated quickly at the end.
This is a team that’s competitive in the Mid-American Conference. There’s no reason to think they’re not the MAC West favorites – and let’s not forget the East favorites, Ohio, hand their hands full with a Football Championship Subdivision Howard team.
So there’s no reason to hit the panic button. Not even next week against Utah.
Now Week 3 hosting a Central Michigan team that has seemingly had the Huskies’ number the past half-decade – that’s going to be the most telling game of the early slate that will answer most questions. Next week is likely to only raise more.