Huskies offense needs to improve off bye week.

By Jayce Eustice

The Huskies entered their bye week with a 4-3 record after their Homecoming victory against the Ohio Bobcats. After starting the year 1-3, the pattern became obvious for this year’s Huskies team: beat conference opponents and lose to non-conference play.

While this pattern may seem like a recipe for success, the weaknesses for the Huskies have been on full display. After two second-half collapses against the Iowa Hawkeyes and Utah Utes to begin the year, the Huskies offense scored double digits for the first time in their third game of the season.

Points have been hard to come by so far for the Huskies. NIU ranks second to last in the MAC in total offense with just under 300 yards per game. NIU also ranks second to last in the conference in scoring offense. The Huskies have been super dependent on their defense to keep the team in games long enough for their struggling offense to finally put points on the board.

To combat the sub-par offense, the defense has stepped up. The Huskies rank second in the MAC in points given up with 23.3 points per game, and third in total yards given up with 351.4 yards per game. NIU has been able to hold their opponents to very few points while sacking the opposing quarterback 22 times on the season. Junior defensive end Sutton Smith has led the way for the defense, totaling seven sacks and 13 tackles for losses in seven games this season.

The Huskies’ ability to continue to develop on offense is the key to going from a good team to a great team. The contrast between the offensive and defensive statistics is considerable.

Sophomore quarterback Marcus Childers averages just 4.43 yards per pass attempt, good enough to come in 116th of 117 qualified passers in the FBS. While the deep-ball hasn’t been a specialty for Childers, he has the ability to extend plays with his legs and scramble for extra yardage.

While Childers is responsible for throwing the ball down field, the blame doesn’t rest solely on his shoulders. The Huskies need to run plays to get the ball into the hands of their playmakers. Guys like senior wide receiver D.J. Brown, senior wide receiver Jauan Wesley and junior running back Marcus Jones are just a few players with the ability to break tackles and turn any play into a big gain when given the opportunity.

The Huskies have offensive weapons but their lack of creativity and execution have hindered their development.

When NIU is unable to put together long drives, the defense is forced to stay on the field for too long. This increases the chance of the opposing team figuring out the Huskies’ defense and putting up big points.

With four more conference games on the ticket, it’s important now more than ever to find something that enables the offense to consistently move the ball. Childers doesn’t need to throw the ball for 300 yards to win a football game, but his arm needs to be respected.

Finding a few long completions early in games opens up the running lanes for the Huskies’ trio of quality running backs and Childers. These will extend drives and make the offense far more unpredictable.

With the Huskies’ next game Saturday against non-conference Brigham Young University, they will have another chance to break the cycle of non-conference losses. Afterward, the Huskies play four conference games to finish up the 2018 regular season.