COLUMN: The scariest thing about NIU’s offense


Courtesy of Brian Fisher

COVID-freshman wide receiver Trayvon Rudolph had 309 receiving yards in NIU’s 52-47 loss to the Kent State Golden Flashes on Nov. 3.

By James Krause

The scariest thing about NIU’s offense in their 52-47 loss to the Kent State Golden Flashes isn’t in the final stats.

It’s not in junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi’s record-breaking 532 yards passing, nor is it in COVID-freshman wide receiver Trayvon Rudolph having a school record and Mid-American Conference record 309 receiving yards.

The scariest thing about the NIU offense is that they could have done even better. 

“That first quarter, we had some stops defensively,” head coach Thomas Hammock said. “We have to take more advantage and score more points. We turned the ball over in the red zone and gave up points there. We knew this was going to be this type of game, but we’ve got to look at the tape to try and minimize some damage.”

The play Hammock referenced was a fumble by redshirt senior wide receiver Tyrice Richie that ended a 15 play, eight-and-a-half-minute drive that yielded no points.

Still, the offense is clicking for NIU in a way it hasn’t previously under Hammock. What started as a run-first team at the start of the year has quickly developed a passing game that is bearing fruit.

“You figure if you’re throwing for 800 yards in two weeks, you’re doing something right,” Hammock said. “(Lombardi) played phenomenal. He gave us a chance. We were down 18, and we came fighting back like. We’ve been down every other game, and we can build off of that.”

The loss also came down to an issue that NIU’s defense struggled within 2020: giving up big plays. Four of Kent State’s touchdowns came on plays 20 yards or longer. Overall, the Golden Flashes average scoring drive lasted just 75 seconds.

Hammock and other players pointed out how they won’t face a team quite like head coach Sean Lewis’ Kent State squad. No other team in the country, let alone on NIU’s schedule, is both top 11 in both plays per game and lowest time of possession per game.

The Huskies still lead the MAC West while the Golden Flashes control the MAC East, so a rematch in Detroit isn’t out of the picture and certainly not out of the minds of Huskie players.

“We definitely want to see them again in the MAC Championship just to finish some unfinished business,” Rudolph said. “They did what they had to today, and today they were just a better team.”

To get their rematch in December, the Huskies will have to survive three more challenges, starting with Ball State University. Kickoff for the Battle of the Bronze Stalk is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Huskie Stadium on ESPN2.