Huskies fumble the second half, Rockets recovers

Football off to its worst start in 22 years

NIU%27s+offense+waits+at+the+line+of+scrimmage+for+action+to+resume+Nov.+4+during+NIU%27s+49-30+loss+to+the+University+at+Buffalo+Bulls+at+Huskie+Stadium+in+DeKalb.

Patrick Murphy | Northern Star

NIU’s offense waits at the line of scrimmage for action to resume Nov. 4 during NIU’s 49-30 loss to the University at Buffalo Bulls at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.

James Krause, Senior Reporter

DeKALB — The Huskies football team collapsed in the fourth quarter against the University of Toledo Rockets, losing 41-24 Saturday in a game that was tied after three quarters.

NIU scored a season-high 24 points in the first half, only to be shutout in the second. The offense managed only 88 yards of offense after halftime and allowed redshirt quarterback Ross Bowers to be sacked three times. 

Head Coach Thomas Hammock said his team needs to continue to work towards putting together a complete game.

“It was a tale of two halves,” Hammock said. “We played probably as good as we can play for the first half. Then we really didn’t make many plays in the second half. We have to continue to find ways to get guys in space and get those one-on-one matchups we want.”

Hammock said the second half struggles were attributed to a more aggressive blitzing scheme and two-man deep coverage from Toledo that left the Huskies with limited options.

“They started blitzing us and we got behind the sticks on first and second down,” Hammock said. “That makes it very predictable on second and long or third and long. They started playing two-man, which is hard coverage for us to beat. You have a quarterback who can run a little bit, you run a draw and come out the back door. Obviously we don’t have that, but we need to find plays to defeat two-man.”

First-year running back Harrison Waylee said the defensive line of Toledo started attacking from many different angles in the second half.

“In the second half, they picked up that movement,” Waylee said. “There were blitzes from the outside, inside and a bunch of moves by the defensive line that they didn’t bring in the first.”

Waylee ran for a career-high 114 yards and a touchdown. Bowers finished the game going 19-for-39 on pass attempts for 273 yards and two touchdowns.

The rivalry game got particularly hostile and sloppy at times with a combined 19 penalties for the game, including several unsportsmanlike conduct and personal foul flags. Hammock said his team was ready for chippy play given the feud between the programs.

“If you watch the tape, you see a lot of things that obviously we alerted our players to,” Hammock said. “The big thing we can’t do is respond, and I think for the most part we did a good job in doing that.”

Rockets sophomore quarterback Carter Bradley found holes in the Huskies secondary and finished with a career-high 432 yards and three touchdowns. Bradley started in place of senior quarterback Eli Peters, who was out with a leg injury.

Hammock said his cornerbacks had to play more physical on the outside to stop short completions from adding up.

“You pick your poison, and we’re trying to minimize explosive plays,” Hammock said. “I think on the outside we have to play better at the cornerback position. We have to be able to get up on guys and be physical. Our safeties played better.”

First-year safety Devin Lafayette got his first career interception and led the team in tackles with 13. Lafayette said the defense was caught off guard by how confident the opposing Rockets were passing the ball 44 times with a backup quarterback.

“We knew coming into the game they were like a top ten passing team,” Lafayette said. “We knew they’d put the ball up, but it did surprise us that they threw the ball that much.”

The replacement Bradley got his team started on the right foot with a 21-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive to senior wide receiver Danzel McKinley-Lewis.

NIU was able to find their playmakers early, with Bowers finding first-year wide receiver Trayvon Rudolph on a 36-yard catch. 

Waylee capitalized and went virtually untouched on his way to a 28-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7 at the end of the first.

First-year safety Jordan Hansen got his second interception of the season on a tipped pass on the following Toledo possession. NIU turned the ensuing drive into a touchdown on a five-yard pass from Bowers to sixth-year senior tight end Daniel Crawford.

The Huskies and Rockets traded touchdown drives, first with Toledo getting a goal-line touchdown run by junior running back Bryant Koback. NIU responded when Bowers found Richie on a 26-yard pass to the endzone.

Rockets senior wide receiver Bryce Mitchell created headaches all day for the Huskies defense, getting a catch and making defenders miss on his way to a 44-yard touchdown catch late in the second quarter.

A fumble by first-year quarterback Dustin Fletcher led to a 25-yard field goal late in the half by Toledo sophomore kicker Evan Davis. Redshirt sophomore kicker John Richardson scored a 29-yarder of his own to tie the game 24-24 at halftime.

The game cooled down from a hot first half with neither team scoring in the third quarter. Toledo had a drive last almost eight minutes that ended on a turnover on downs, following a pass breakup by sophomore cornerback Jordan Gandy.

While Toledo cooled down, NIU went ice cold offensively. The Huskies failed to complete a pass and only gained 18 yards rushing in the third quarter.

Toledo finally broke the tie when Davis kicked a 22-yard field goal with 11:31 left in the fourth quarter. They piled on later with a 15-yard touchdown pass by Bradley to senior wide receiver Ronnie Blackmon.

NIU’s next drive ended with a turnover on downs deep in their own territory. Toledo took over with a shortened field and iced the game with a 25-yard rushing touchdown for redshirt first-year wide receiver Micah Kelly.

The Huskies managed to try for a field goal late, but the 46-yard attempt was no good and kept the final score at 41-24.

The Huskies fall to 0-5, their worst start since 1998. Toledo moves to 3-2, ensuring Head Coach Jason Candle his sixth straight winning season as coach of the Rockets.

NIU has one more chance to find a win this season, and it comes next Saturday against the Eastern Michigan University Eagles. Kickoff is at 11 a.m. CST on the silver turf of Rynearson Stadium in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.