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Carifio: Time for Huskies to show off depth at quarterback

Northern Illinois offensive lineman Nolan Potter blocks Central Michigan linebacker Justin Whiteside giving quarterback Ross Bowers time to throw during their game Wednesday night in Huskie Stadium at NIU in DeKalb.
Northern Illinois offensive lineman Nolan Potter blocks Central Michigan linebacker Justin Whiteside giving quarterback Ross Bowers time to throw during their game Wednesday night in Huskie Stadium at NIU in DeKalb.

DeKALB – As if anyone needed proof about the strange beast that is the 2020 MAC football season, it's already a third of the way over.

Yes, that's just two games. But however you want to parse it, the NIU offense has been aimless, a liability that has stunted any defensive progress after an 0-2 start.

But of course, this is a free season, so to speak. Eligibility won't be used up on younger players. So it's time to see other quarterbacks in addition to Ross Bowers.

Full disclosure: NIU coach Thomas Hammock addressed this at the press conference Wednesday night after a 40-10 loss to Central Michigan. However, due to a standard Zoom snafu that pretty much defines existence in 2020, it was impossible to hear most of what Hammock had to say. Even the raw audio file provided by the university was more than 90% unintelligible when it came to Hammock's part of the interview.

That said, when he was asked if there was evaluation at the quarterback spot, you could hear him say no right off the bat.

He went on but it was impossible to hear. Until he got to the part about the running game, and how those inconsistencies have hurt the pass.

"If you can't run the ball, that makes it extremely difficult for any quarterback," Hammock said. "We have to run the ball to take pressure off of him and set up play-action passes down the field."

Against the Chippewas, Bowers completed half of his 32 passes for 139 yards – a paltry 4.4 yards per pass. The running game, as Hammock said, was also underwhelming, with the Huskies averaging 2.2 yards per carry on 33 attempts.

Harrison Waylee, a freshman who had a strong second half in a 49-30 Week 1 loss to Buffalo and who Hammock said would have a bigger role in the offense this week, ran 10 times for 23 yards.

Late in the game against Central, there was a flash we haven't seen which is why it might be time to rotate other quarterbacks into the game soon, like Hammock did last year with Marcus Childers stepping into relieve Bowers in certain situations.

In the very definition of garbage time, third-string quarterback Andrew Haidet found 6-5 junior wide receiver Dennis Robinson in stride on a deep streak for a touchdown in the closing seconds, the only one of the game for the Huskies.

Robinson only had 23 catches in the first two seasons of his career, and this was his first of this year. He's been targeted, and was targeted early by Bowers, but just hasn't really developed a rapport with him.

But in the toss from Haidet, we saw the take-the-top-off-the-defense explosiveness that Robinson has been promising for three years finally delivered.

And although he was seemingly hurt after a run Wednesday and left the game, sophomore Rodney Thompson has proven mobile under center with six carries, 20 yards and a touchdown in cleanup duties this year.

Bowers has proven himself efficient as a game manager, usually making solid decisions on quick passes to Cole Tucker, Daniel Crawford, and this year Tyrice Richie. And it should be pointed out Bowers wasn't sacked Wednesday and had ample time to throw most of the game – a marked difference from a year ago. This was against a Central Michigan team that got to the quarterback five times in its season opener.

Hammock has also raved about his quarterback room, particularly after the Buffalo game when he said all three playing wasn't necessarily because the game was a blowout.

But Wednesday he waited even longer into the game to put in the other quarterbacks.

So you've got three quarterbacks with different strengths – a gunslinger, a game manager and a runner. Going forward it would be nice to see each play to his strengths before it's garbage time.

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