At the 50: Huskies anchored by experienced defense in win over ISU

By Mike Knapp

DeKALB —The Huskies entered the 2019 season with a defense that has a chance to be very, very good.

While there were some question marks on the offensive side of the football, the defense was back with a deep and experienced unit. The Huskies were ready to hit the ground running when it came time to take the field Saturday night against Illinois State University.

The defense did plenty of hitting alright, and put a beating on the Redbirds’ running game. They made several key stops down the stretch to help the Huskies open the Thomas Hammock Era with a 24-10 win before 14,586 fans at Huskie Stadium.

The Redbirds came in with junior quarterback Brady Davis who threw for 1,935 yards and 19 touchdowns a year ago. Senior running back James Robinson started in the backfield for ISU. Robinson rushed for 1,290 yards and 12 touchdowns in just 11 games in 2018.

Davis had some good moments and ended the night with 187 yards on 14-for-32 passing, while Robinson was bottled up from the start, and could manage just 16 yards on 13 carries. With one of his runs going for 18 yards, Robinson was held to minus 2 yards in his other 12 touches.

“They came in here with a big offensive line and I’m sure they thought they could come in here and bully us, but I wasn’t worried about it,” Head Coach Thomas Hammock said. “I see what we play with on a day-to-day basis, and I was confident in our team’s ability to stop the run.”

“We wanted to make them one-dimensional, and we were confident,” Hammock said. “The defense stops the offense every day in practice, and I thought we could stop Illinois State.”

As a team, the Redbirds managed just 51 yards on the ground and were just 1-for-15 on third-down conversions respectively.

“Our coaches emphasize us being ready,” redshirt junior linebacker Jordan Cole said. “I felt like we prepared well as a defense.”

Cole had three tackles on the night while starting in place of injured senior linebacker Lance Deveaux.

When it came time to make a stand in the fourth quarter, the Huskie defense was up to the task. After senior quarterback Ross Bowers connected with Tyrice Ritchie on a 68-yard touchdown to give the Huskies a 17-10 lead, the defense came up with two huge stops, the second of which put the game on ice for good.

With 5:35 left, the Redbirds took the ball at their own one-yard line and marched into Huskie territory. That’s where the defense stiffened though, as redshirt senior defensive lineman Quintin Wynne sacked Davis on a fourth-and-11 play to end that drive with 3:04 left in the game.

After a Huskie three-and-out, the Redbirds started at their own 11 yard line. On the first play of the drive, redshirt sophomore cornerback Jalen McKie picked off Davis and took it back 32 yards to push the score to 24-10. 

The Huskies again held the Redbirds on downs, this time with 1:29 to go, leaving Bowers and the offense to run the Victory Formation to run out the clock.

“We have a lot to prove to ourselves that we can be a great defense,” Hammock said. “We’ve got some seniors and veterans on our defense, and they’ve got pride. I respect those guys. We talk to them all the time about wrecking practice, and I’m glad they had the chance to wreck a game.”

The Huskies defense faces a bigger task next week, as they travel to Salt Lake City to take on the University of Utah. The Utes entered the weekend as the 14th-ranked team in the country and opened the season with a 30-12 win over Brigham Young University.