[Photos by Sean King for Shaw Media]
Win at home against Miami (4-6 after a surprising victory against Ohio on Tuesday) on Wednesday or at Western Michigan on Nov. 20, and the Huskies go back to Detroit. And not to count chickens ahead of the cart, but winning at least one of those games looks very likely.
So if the Huskies want a chance of beating, oh, let’s say Buffalo, in the MAC Championship game – not to mention ensuring wins over the RedHawks and Broncos – there’s a big thing the Huskies need to work on.
It’s no secret that the passing game has struggled this year. But as Marcus Childers has been improving – somewhat – as the year has gone on, perhaps it’s making the mistakes of the receivers more noticeable.
Sure this might seem like nitpicking a great movie – “Why didn’t Thor just aim for the head?” – since NIU just had a decisive victory over a rival. And with the run game performing the way it did, with two 100-yard rushers, complaining about the pass seems even more nitpicky. After all, the Huskies didn’t need to throw the ball in the second half. And they’re averaging 37 points a game the past two weeks.
And both Carey and Childers said the passing game is where it needs to be right now.
"There's certainly capability of it. There's good players out there that can go at any moment," Carey said. "It's a fair question because the numbers haven't been what they have been in the past with the yardage, but it certainly is up to speed with what we're trying to do right now with this team. We have big play capability out there when we need it."
But it could be the difference between only making the title game and winning it. Or even breaking their bowl skid.
On Wednesday, Jauan Wesley after a 23-yard catch fumbled the ball trying to juke his way to some extra yards, giving Toledo the ball back. Fortunately, Jameson Vest missed a field goal later that drive, holding the early Rockets’ lead at 3-0.
Then, on the next drive, Wesley dropped a wide-open pass between the numbers that would have been a first down.
Fortunately, the offense still started clicking. Childers did some fancy maneuvering in the pocket to find tight end Corey Lersch for a 33-yard touchdown. NIU took a 7-3 lead and never trailed again.
With only 131 yards through the air, the ground attack and defense make it so the Huskies don't need to do any more than that.
"I think we can either throw the ball for whatever, or run the ball too," Childers said. "I'm not really worried about it and I don't think any of the guys are either. We're happy winning games and we're doing it either way."
Although it was only a five-play drive, a wide receiver did not touch the ball. Nor did a receiver touch the ball on the 11-play, 82-yard drive in the third quarter that pushed the NIU lead to double digits for the first time.
Childers attempted only one pass on that drive an underthrown pass intended for Spencer Tears.
Although you could probably write plenty about the NIU secondary and its penchant for giving up the big play, the front seven covers up a lot of that.
But the receivers and the passing game seem to be the most fixable. It’s an experienced group that has produced in the past.
And if they start producing again, a MAC title seems very likely.