NIU’s first home game is right around the corner, as Saturday it will square off against Tennessee Martin.
The Skyhawks (1-0) are coming off an exciting game in which they won on a successful 43-yard field goal by Cody Sandlin with four seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. They defeated Memphis 20-17.
Sports editor Brian Thomas will familiarize you more with the Skyhawks and break them down offensively and defensively while letting you know about a couple of their key players.
Quarterback: The Skyhawks will be led by their senior quarterback, Derek Carr. Last season, Carr threw for 2482 yards and 25 touchdowns, in the process breaking a school-record for most touchdowns. He is one-dimensional and attacks strictly through the air, as he only rushed for 67 yards last season. In game one against Memphis, he threw for 211 yards while connecting with Quentin Sims on a nine-yard touchdown pass.
Running Back: Tennessee Martin features a trio of running backs. While seniors Jason McNair and Tevin Barksdale see plenty of the team’s carries, junior DJ McNeil is also getting a heavy dose of action. McNair led the team in rushing yards last season with 848 yards, but Barksdale was the team leader in touchdowns with eight. This season, their carries are close to even with McNair leading after receiving 15 touches and running for 100 yards. McNeil still carried the ball 10 times for 43 yards rushing and also scored on a five-yard touchdown run.
Wide Receiver: Sims is the standout at the wide receiver position for the Skyhawks. Last season, he recorded 712 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns, both of which led the team. He has good chemistry with Carr, who tends to target Sims quite frequently. In game one, they picked up where they left off last season, as Sims had 70 receiving yards and a nine-yard touchdown reception.
Offensive Line: The Skyhawks return a young but experienced offensive line. It consists of lone senior Michael Bryant at right guard, junior center Tyler Eady and sophomores Charles Sweeton at left tackle, John Johnson at left guard and Mathew Axline at right tackle. They form a group that only gave up five sacks last season, none of them surrendering a sack. They allowed no sacks in their first game.
Defensive Line: Tennessee Martin has a talented defensive line that will put a lot of pressure on the opposing team’s offensive line and quarterback. Returning senior defensive tackle Darrin Nalls and junior defensive end DJ Roberts will be sure to get after NIU’s Jordan Lynch in this game. Nalls recorded three sacks on the season last year, while Roberts had three and a half of his own. Roberts was named as the College Sports Madness Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Week after recording nine tackles, one sack and a fumble recovery.
Linebacker: Junior Ben Johnson was the anchor of the Skyhawks’s defense last season. He led the team with 97 tackles, recorded three and half sacks while picking off two passes. He also led the MVC in forced fumbles last season. Johnson is all over the field as he is effective by putting pressure on the quarterback as well as playing coverage. He picked up right where he left off last season, recording nine tackles in the opener.
Secondary: Tennessee Martin brings in an inexperienced secondary. Senior corner back Thad Williams missed all of last season with an injury and sophomore corner back Taino Fear-Perez has only started one game. Junior Fred Flenorl played in all 11 games last season and J’Vontez Blackmon will be who the Huskies need to keep an eye on. He played in 10 games last season and led the team in interceptions.
Special Teams: After a strong season last year, kicker Sandlin was named to the College Football Performance Awards Preseason Watch List for kickers. Kicking field goals, he was 14-17 and he converted 45-48 extra points. He has started 2-4, kicking field goals, but he hit his game winner.
NIU and Tennessee Martin are coming into their match up after having different results in its week one affairs.
The Huskies (0-1) dropped a heartbreaker to Iowa at Soldier Field by a score of 18-17 on a 23-yard touchdown run by Damon Bullock with 2:15 remaining in the fourth quarter, which won the game.