Football ready to take next step after close fight

By Christopher Loggins

Heading into Saturday’s game against No. 1 Ohio State, many questioned whether football could compete with the national champions, but the Huskies proved to be ready for any challenge thrown their way.


Leading up to game day, I battled all week to predict a final outcome. The Buckeyes were 34.5-point favorites over NIU, and many predicted them to win by over 40 points.

After taking a look at both teams’ strengths and weaknesses, I was able to predict what I believed would be a reasonable ending score — 35-23 in favor of NIU.

Much of my opinion could have been biased, but something told me there was a legitimate chance the Huskies could pull off what many considered to be an impossible feat. NIU had won five of its last eight contests against the Big Ten and was widely-considered the best team in all of Illinois.

When I analyzed Ohio State’s team, I was surprisingly able to point out just as many weaknesses as strengths. The Buckeyes have a defense that can take them very far, and I knew they’d give the Huskies all they could handle.

With players such as junior safety Vonn Bell, junior defensive end Joey Bosa and senior linebacker Joshua Perry on its defense, OSU will never be completely out of a game, but after looking at the Buckeyes’ offense, I figured the game would get pretty interesting.

Ohio State is currently in a quarterback crisis, as they can’t decide on a full-time starter. After an impressive run last year, many thought that junior Cardale Jones would be the guy for the Buckeyes, but he’s proven to be the exact opposite.

Jones has been benched a number of times for J.T. Barrett, who many OSU fans believe is a better player than Jones, but Barrett hasn’t done much to prove he’s worthy of being the full-time starter either. Whenever you’re going up against a team who doesn’t have a true leader at the quarterback position, you’re bound to have some great opportunities.

The player I thought would give the Huskies the most trouble was running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is believed to be the best player in all of college football and a possible Heisman Trophy nominee.

Dating back to last season, Elliott has run for more than 100 yards in six consecutive games and averaged more than 6 yards-per-carry. If anyone was going to win the game for Ohio State, I would have have picked Elliott in a heartbeat.

When I viewed the strengths for NIU, a lot came to mind. The team has a defense that has played exceptionally well and typically doesn’t allow many big plays to opposing offenses. They shut an explosive Murray State offense down to just 26 points and shut down UNLV in the second half of the first game of the season.

The offense for the Huskies has had its moments of question, but has played well overall and gone on big runs in many games. They run the ball quite a bit and can be very dangerous passing the ball.

One player who I thought would make a huge impact in the game was wide receiver Kenny Golladay, a transfer from North Dakota who shocked NIU fans with stellar numbers in his first two games. Standing at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Golladay is a big receiver who can make big-time plays all day long.

Mistakes on both sides

When the second half of the game started, it looked as though Ohio State finally realized it was the best team in all of college football. The offense began moving the ball up and down the field with ease, and I thought they were getting ready to crush all of my pre-game predictions.

The Buckeyes took a 20-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter, as NIU’s defense saved the team from falling into an insurmountable deficit. Every time it looked as though OSU would raise the lead higher, they were stopped and forced into tough situations.

Eventually, I knew a time would come where all of these defensive stops would mean nothing for NIU. The offense would eventually have to put up a scoring drive, something they hadn’t done since the first quarter. Every time I thought NIU was out of gas, Ohio State made erratic mistakes that you wouldn’t expect a defending champion to make.

In the final minutes, when OSU had to do nothing but continue running the clock out, they kept doing the unthinkable. They passed on plays where they should’ve run and continued to turn the ball over.

Although quarterback Drew Hare and the Huskies’ offense had struggled all day, I thought they had one drive in them. Whether it was play-calling issues or just bad execution, that final drive never came, and the Huskies took the seven-point loss.

Moving forward

There are many positives the team can look to after the tough loss. NIU stood toe-to-toe with the top team in the nation, and proved it can compete with anyone they face off against.

Despite not being ranked and not being in a conference like the Big Ten, the Huskies have managed to beat and play well against many of the Big Ten’s teams. They’ve cemented themselves as a force, but they may just need an extra push. That extra push could have been Saturday’s loss.

Head coach Rod Carey and his coaching staff have done a wonderful job preparing the team for any obstacle. NIU never looks to be defeated or down in game, making it tough to know whether or not they’re losing.

The team makes few mistakes, and seems to always be up for big challenges. If the Huskies can play well throughout the year and keep this up, they are headed for great territory in the near future.

It may not be this year, and it may not be the year after, but with great patience and persistence, Huskies football will soon take leaps and bounds even greater than the ones they’ve already taken.