NIU's defense harassed Kent State's offense all game long Saturday.
The Huskies penetrated into the Golden Flashes' backfield for seven sacks, forcing three turnovers and held their offense to 70 total yards on only 61 plays. It was NIU's best defensive performance of the year statistically.
However, the performance was not without mistakes.
NIU committed eight penalties that gave up 79 yards, with one roughing the kicker penalty that gave Kent State a critical first down. The penalties ended up not hurting the Huskies, but head coach Dave Doeren said the infractions must be addressed.
"The amount of penalties bothers me a lot," Doeren said. "Some of them were definitely avoidable, and some of them were combat penalties where guys were just straining. But that will be talked about and addressed."
The penalties were just one of the things that made the victory bittersweet for the Huskies, as their offense experienced highs and lows.
They total score read that NIU had scored 40 points in the game, but it had opportunities to put more points on the board.
NIU's offense was unable to get into a consistent rhythm against Kent State's defense, and started the game going three-and-out on its first three possessions.
"We can't start that way against Western Michigan," said NIU wide receiver Martel Moore. "We have to start fast if we want to win that game."
After the defense recovered a fumble deep in Kent State territory, NIU was able to convert and score on a touchdown pass to Moore, who made an acrobatic, twisting catch in the corner of the end-zone, keeping both his feet in bounds. The play was up-held after an official review.
"I honestly didn't know what happened at first," Moore said. "I just went up there and grabbed the ball. When I got up, I realized that I had scored, and I was just happy we were able to convert that drive into points."
After that, NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish scored on a 26-yard run to give the Huskies 21 points. Then the motor of the offense stalled, and NIU had to rely on four straight field goals by sophomore kicker Mathew Sims, who was more than happy to oblige when his number was called.
"Whenever I get the chance to put points on the board for my team, that's what I want to do," Sims said. "I don't focus on anything else. Once I get called on, I just know what I have to do."
Despite the high-powered kicking game, no one was left satisfied by the field goals.
"I don't want field goals over touchdowns," Doeren said. "I'm proud of Mat Sims for doing his job, but when [the offense] gets in the red zone, they have got to score touchdowns. I'm not satisfied, but we'll play harder, and we'll play better."
The offense also lost three fumbles, one of which led to a Kent State touchdown late in the game.
NIU running backs Jamal Womble and Jasmin Hopkins were overshadowed by the third running back, sophomore Akeem Daniels, Saturday.
Daniels made a strong case for himself to be given a larger role in the offense, as he rushed for 58 yards on only six carries, averaging almost 10 yards per carry against one of the better defenses that NIU has faced this season.