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Preseason Opponent Preview: Northern Illinois Offense

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Duke v Northern Illinois Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It’s hard to believe that only five seasons ago, quarterback Jordan Lynch was leading the Huskies of Northern Illinois to an undefeated regular season and was contending for a Heisman trophy as one of the most dynamic college athletes in the nation. Fast forward to 2018 and the Huskies aren’t setting the world on fire the same way they were in 2012 and 2013, but that’s no excuse for Utah to overlook this Husky offense.

Up front, NIU’s offensive line returns stand-out tackles Max Scharping and Jordan Steckler. Scharping, a 6’6”, 320 lb left tackle is a back-to-back MAC all-conference selection with a knack for creating space for his running backs and is one of the top NFL prospects in the Mid-American Conference.

NIU has the benefit of returning quarterback Marcus Childers, the sophomore was thrown into action early last year as both the first and second string options suffered injuries inside the first five games of 2017, leaving Childers to step in. He performed admirably, leading the team to a 5-3 record after assuming the starting position, but his numbers do not exactly turn heads. He finished 2017 with a 57.4% completion rating with 16 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He comes with a well-rounded skill set and is able to move on his feet, though most wouldn’t consider him a major threat on the ground, only amassing 5 rushing TD’s and 473 total yards on 143 attempts. Keeping Childers healthy will be key to Northern Illinois hopes of a MAC championship.

Downfield, wide receiver Spencer Tear, one of Childer’s top targets in 2017 returns in what is likely to be an increased role in 2018. The junior wide receiver reeled in a team high 43 catches last season for 528 yards and 4 touchdowns. He had his best game in a loss to San Diego State where he nabbed 5 receptions including one 81 yard touchdown, which accounted for most of his 105 yards. Despite what looked to be a breakout performance, Tear never established himself as a consistent target but proved to be a vital deep threat, averaging 12.3 yards per reception. With one full season under his belt, Tear should be more comfortable and ready to take on a larger role.

Running back Marcus Jones also returns for his junior season after seeing limited time as a starter in 2017. The 5’8” 199 lb back split time with rushing leader Jordan Huff last season, but is expected to take over the starting position full time in 2018. With abbreviated playing time, Jones managed 83 carries for 350 yards last year.

Northern Illinois is a young team but isn’t lacking in experience. This game should be an uptick in competition for the Utes before taking on Washington in week three, and while Utah should easily walk out of DeKalb with a 2-0 record, this looks like a potential trap game early on.