Third-down success key to NIU win


NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish scrambles as Jason Schepler (87) runs a route in Saturday’s 31-17 victory over Temple.

By Chris Dertz

In the game of football, you’ve got to be able to convert third downs if you want to have success.

NIU’s ability to move the sticks when it mattered led to a victory over the preseason MAC-favorite Temple Owls on Saturday, 31-17.

The Huskies successfully converted 11 of 16 third-down opportunities, many of them coming via the legs and arms of quarterback Chandler Harnish.

Temple only converted 4-of-12 third downs.

“The reality was that we never stopped them,” said Temple head coach Al Golden. “[NIU] controlled the time of possession, they were great on third down, threw the ball exceptionally well… you’re not going to lose many games if you have that formula.”

NIU’s control over the time of possession was thanks to its high third-down conversion rate. The Huskies held the ball for 38:10, compared with 21:50 for Temple.

A number of those third down plays saw Harnish rolling out of the pocket and hitting wide receivers downfield, often on crossing routes.

“We usually have three or four guys out on a route, and that’s pretty tough to defend,” Harnish said.

The Huskies logged 15 first downs through the air. Temple had 15 total first downs in the game.

All the third-down conversions led to many long drives, as neither team punted until the end of the third quarter. Overall, NIU outgained Temple 420 yards to 272, and Harnish had only five incompletions.

“Over the last few weeks I’ve been feeling like I’ve been in a groove,” Harnish said. “The playcalling was so unpredictable today, I think [Temple] was on their toes all day, and that just makes our job easier.”

The Huskies only had four drives that didn’t end in a score, and held the ball for all but 2:40 of the second quarter.

As the offense continued to convert third downs, and the NIU defense started preventing Temple scores in the second half, the entire team looked to be in a groove.

“It wasn’t that we weren’t playing hard, but we weren’t playing smart,” said NIU head coach Jerry Kill. “The good thing about this group and these kids is that they take what you tell them and they’re listening.”

Golden echoed Kill’s thoughts. When asked about a possible momentum change after Temple missed a field goal, Golden simply replied “There can’t be a momentum shift if you’re not stopping the other team.”

And stopping NIU’s offense is exactly what the Owls had the most trouble with on Saturday.