NIU looks to limit mistakes, penalties in road game at Ohio University
DeKALB -- The strong feeling of having given away the game pervaded the Northern Illinois football team in the immediate aftermath of last Saturday's 27-20 loss to Ball State.
Three turnovers, 12 penalties and missed tackles resulting in points led to the Huskies' demise. The focus heading into Saturday's game at Ohio University (2-3, 1-0 MAC) is for the Huskies (1-4, 0-1) to fix their mistakes.
"Up until the last game, we did a good job of protecting the football," NIU coach Thomas Hammock said. "We have to get back to doing that. We have to get back to having balance on offense, we have to score touchdowns in the red zone.
"Our offensive line is giving (quarterback) Ross Bowers good time now where he has a chance to go through his progression(s)," Hammock continued. "At the wide receiver position we have to be more disciplined and detailed with our routes, getting to the proper depths, creating separation at the top of the routes because we have a quarterback that can deliver them the football."
Shutting down freshman running back and MAC East Offensive Player of the Week O'Shaan Allison will be a point of emphasis for a Huskie defense that has given up an average 219 yards rushing per game the last three games.
"For us to stop the run, we have to be gap-sound," Hammock said. "It's not necessarily one guy. We gave up a big run in the second half when Jordan Cole was playing. It's never one person, It's a collective effort. It's 11 guys handling their responsibilities and handling their gaps in stopping the run."
The Bobcats bring back preseason MAC player of the year Nathan Rourke, who has thrown for 1,012 yards and ran for a team-high 250 yards.
Hammock is impressed by some of the looks that the Bobcats employ with Rourke.
"I think they do a great job with the speed option package," Hammock said. "They've got the speed option where the quarterback runs it. They've got the speed option where he pitches it. Then they've got the speed option pass. They've got a deep pass. They've got a throwback pass. I think all of those things they stress you on the edge of your defense."
The Huskies have seen an uptick in the pass rush the last two weeks, and will be looking to pressure Rourke, who was sacked four times in a 21-20 win over Buffalo and has been sacked 13 times this year.
"It always starts with physical play with them and they're very good up front in terms of their people, linebackers, safeties support really well," Ohio coach Frank Solich said of NIU. "They're doing well against the pass and so trying to get something going with any consistency will be a challenge."
The Ohio defense is yielding 27.6 points per game, 203 rushing yards and 5.2 yards per carry.
Northern Illinois (1-4, 0-1 MAC) vs. Ohio U. (2-3, 1-0)When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Peden Stadium, Athens, Ohio
TV: ESPN+ Radio: WIND AM-560, WLBK AM-1380
Series history: The Huskies lead the overall series history 12-10, winning the last three games in a row. Each of the last five meetings between the teams, and six of the last seven games dating back to 2003 have been decided by seven points or less. NIU defeated Ohio in the 2011 MAC Championship game in Detroit.
Fast facts: NIU is playing five of its six games between Sept. 7 and Oct. 19 on the road with the lone home game last week's loss to Ball State. The Huskies travel to Miami next week. ... NIU outside linebacker Antonio Jones-Davis is coming off a career-best 17-tackle game versus Ball State. ... With 1,817 yards of total offense through five games, NIU has 517 more yards than its total through five games a year ago. ... Huskie QB Ross Bowers has completed 103 of 181 passes for 1,297 yards.