Costly turnovers lead to NIU loss

NIU quarterback DeMarcus Grady slides after running the ball in the second half of the Huskies’ 27-10 loss to Iowa State.

By Chris Dertz

AMES, Iowa | Leading up to NIU’s season opener against Iowa State Thursday night, head coach Jerry Kill was adamant in saying that you don’t know anything about your team until you get out there and play.

Kill may not have liked what he saw after two quarters of football, but NIU found a way to make it interesting in the fourth quarter, making a game of it after being dominated in the first half.

It was to no avail, however, as Iowa State tailback Alexander Robinson and quarterback Austen Arnaud were able to drive down the field, cementing the victory, 27-10. The loss was NIU’s seventh-straight season-opening loss.

“They did a good job of getting both [Arnaud and Robinson] the ball and making plays,” said NIU safety Tracy Wilson, who had his first career interception in the game.

After one half of action, the contest was largely over for the Huskies (0-1) as the Cyclones (1-0) had absolutely no problem stopping NIU and starting quarterback DeMarcus Grady on offense.

Iowa State had an even easier time moving the ball themselves in the first half, amassing 279 yards of total offense, compared to NIU’s 112.

Combine that with the Huskies going 0-for-7 on third down in the first half, an inability to generate any consistent pass rush, and place kicker Michael Cklamovski missing two field goals and NIU never seemed to have a fighting chance.

The Huskies ended the game with a 3-for-13 third-down conversion rate.

“Well you can’t struggle on third down; that’s why we got beat,” Kill said. “You’ve got to convert them. If you’re going to be good on offense, you’ve got to be good on third down.”

The tide turned at the beginning of the second quarter, when on the first play from scrimmage, Grady threw an interception, his first of three, to Cyclones defensive back Zac Sandvig at Iowa State’s 37-yard line.

Iowa State’s dynamic running back Alexander Robinson, who had 97 total rushing yards on the day, capitalized with a 63-yard touchdown scamper on the ensuing play.

“It was a critical point in the game,” Kill said of the touchdown run. “A quick change… you have to be able to respond to that. Both sides of the ball are accountable for that. Somebody’s got to bow up and not let that happen.”

After going three-and-out on the very next drive, the figurative final nail was driven into NIU’s coffin.

But all was not lost.

“[The halftime message] was pretty loud,” Kill said. “I just want them to play with a sense of urgency. I thought we did [play with a sense of urgency] in the third quarter.”

After trading turnovers in the third quarter, the Huskies got great field position, starting at Iowa State’s 40-yard line after an erratic punt.

The running of Grady and Spann, who combined for 134 yards rushing, led the Huskies into the endzone for the first time with just under 10 minutes remaining in the game, cutting the Cyclones’ lead to 17-10.

“The whole offense, our confidence definitely rose,” Spann said. “We were going out there and moving the ball. We just had to keep that up and get back into the game.”

After gaining such great field position, it fell on Grady to get his team into the endzone.

“I just motivated them,” Grady said. “We were in a good situation, and we just had to keep going at it, because like we said, we were wearing them down.”

Arnaud, who had 310 total yards with 265 passing, was able to respond to Grady’s touchdown, however, and led his team down the field in the final 10 minutes. Using an approach similar to what the Cyclones did all night, Arnaud was able to simply drop back two steps and pitch it to a wide receiver for a short gain, as NIU’s defensive backs were consistently playing 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. This was in spite of the Huskies holding Iowa State to only 28 second-half rushing yards.

Robinson was then able to score his second touchdown of the day to send it to 24-10, and after another Grady interception in NIU territory, squashing any chance of a Huskie comeback.