If Northern Illinois’ 1-2 start feels familiar, that’s because the Huskies endured a similar September last season.
A loss to a Big 12 team. A loss to a Big 10 team. A potential confidence crisis because the offense didn’t operate as expected.
The Huskies seemed to recover last year. They went 10-1 the rest of the way while averaging 43.4 points per game.
Is a similar recovery possible this year in the wake of last week’s 49-7 loss to No. 6 Wisconsin at Soldier Field?
“All of our goals? They’re intact,” said first-year NIU coach Dave Doeren. “Every one that we’ve set.”
While the current Huskies have bigger issues defensively than last year’s crew, that can be an issue for another time.
At least the defense should be familiar with Cal Poly, Saturday’s opponent, because it runs much of the same triple-option stuff that Army brought to DeKalb in the season opener.
As for the offense, NIU hadn’t scored so few points since the 27-3 International Bowl loss to USF on Jan. 2, 2010.
“Illinois (last Sept. 18) was maybe one of the last times anyone stopped them,” Doeren said. “It’s just been awhile since they had adversity. It’s a great lesson for them.
“I know that Wisconsin is a really good football team. Our guys acknowledge that. But I think we left a lot of things on the field. And our guys, when they watched the film, know they could have played better. If you’re going to do that, it’s better to do that now than it is later.”
If the Huskies were humbled by Wisconsin, they channeled it in the proper fashion.
“We came out Sunday and had a tremendous practice,” Doeren said. “And I think the one thing we can take from the film is that we beat ourselves at times. Dropping balls. Had a couple (illegal) procedure penalties that stopped drives. Those are the things that aren’t characteristic of us.”
Cal Poly (1-2) surrendered 49 points in its lone game against a Football Bowl Subdivision team, which suggests NIU might be able to return to the 40-point plateau it hit against Army and Kansas.
Bottom of the MAC:
The Mid-American Conference has 13 teams this season. For the first time in years, NIU finds itself looking up at all of them in most defensive categories.
The Huskies rank 13th in rushing defense (274.0 ypg), 13th in pass efficiency defense (166.79 rating) and 13th in total defense (521.33 ypg).
That’s a far cry from last year when the Huskies finished either third or fourth among MAC schools in those categories.
What’s responsible for this change? For one thing, NIU joins Ball State and Akron as the only MAC schools that have played three Football Bowl Subdivision opponents this year.
The bigger issue, though, is the fact all-MAC defensive end Sean Progar and junior safety Tommy Davis are the only starters who also started the Humanitarian Bowl.
“We’re just going to try to keep getting better,” Doeren said. “I think, like I’ve been telling you guys, we’ve got (nine) new starters out there. Even though Pat (Schiller) is a returning starter, he hasn’t started at (middle linebacker) in two years. So there’s a lot of growing pains.”Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.