NIU football: Huskies more ‘versatile’ on offense

By Frank Gogola

On paper, football should be a much more pass-heavy team than in past years.

The Huskies lose Da’Ron Brown and his team-leading 1,065 receiving yards, but they return eight receivers — six of whom played in 11 or more games — from last year’s squad. Add to that mix newcomers, highlighted by transfer Kenny Golladay, who was forced to sit last season due to NCAA transfer rules, and the Huskies boast a diverse group at wide receiver and tight end.

“Yeah, we got some boys out there,” said redshirt junior quarterback Drew Hare. “We’re deep. We have guys coming back from last year. Yeah, we lost Da’Ron [Brown], but Tommy[lee Lewis] will be back, Juwan [Brescacin], Deuce [Aregeros Turner], Chad [Beebe] and then [Christian] Blake and Ezra [Saffold]. And not to mention the transfer with Kenny [Golladay]. We got a lot of good guys to throw it to.”

Adding to a more pass-heavy outlook is the fact the Huskies have lost some key cogs in the running game that may not be as easily replaced as at receiver. The Huskies lost running backs Cameron Stingily (971 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns, team highs) and Akeem Daniels (390 rushing yards and one touchdown) to graduation.

The leading returning rusher is Hare, and the running back corps features zero seniors. The backfield will be a committee composed of redshirt junior Keith Harris Jr., juniors Joel Bouagnon and Draco Smith and redshirt sophomore Jordan Huff, who combined for 847 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns last season.

Even with the lack of returning tailbacks and plethora of receivers, offensive coordinator and play caller Bob Cole said NIU will more than likely stick with its historically run-first mentality. Last season the Huskies ran the ball 688 times compared to 385 passing attempts.

“I don’t know if we’ll be pass heavy because we’re a run-first team here — always have been, always will be,” Cole said. “It’s nice to have the weapons we have outside, and we can use those guys in the run game, which will make a big difference for us. I’d say we’re a more versatile team this year than we were last year. We can do a lot of different things with the guys we have.”

The Huskies have skill position players capable of making plays; the key is Hare delivering the ball to them accurately and on a consistent basis. Still, head coach Rod Carey doesn’t see the team veering too far away from its run-first identity although he acknowledged the potential of the ball being in the air more.

“I think wideouts make the run game go and the run game makes the wideouts go,” Carey said. “I don’t think you can do one without the other and say you’re going to slant one way. You just gotta be who you are. It is a pretty diverse group. Now, looking diverse and looking pretty and talking about it are two totally different things than going and doing it.”