With one game under their belt, we finally have an idea of what to expect from the Huskies of Northern Illinois…and if their 33-7 loss to Iowa last week is any indication, the Utes are staring down a 2-0 start before taking PAC-12 Goliath Washington next week.
Leading the Husky offense is quarterback Marcus Childers, a sophomore who was thrown into action last season after the first and second-string options went down with injuries early in the season. His 5-3 record as a starter left many in DeKalb hopeful for 2018, but things are off to a rough start early on for the sophomore quarterback.
Childers squeezed out a pedestrian stat line against Iowa, compiling 105 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and nearly mirrored his 2017 completion percentage connecting 14 times on 25 attempts, good for 56%, a shade below the 57.4% he mustered last season. Of those 14 receptions, 9 were caught by seniors Jauan Wesley and D.J. Brown, with five other receivers each recording one catch each. With two receivers carrying the bulk of the load thus far, Utah’s secondary has their work cut out for them.
The Huskies ground game also struggled in week one with starting running back, redshirt freshman, Jordan Nettles gaining 74 yards on 13 carries, good for an average of 5.7 yards per carry; while sophomore Tre Harbison and junior Marcus Jones combined for an additional 64 yards on 11 more carries. While these numbers are respectable, Childers was a liability with the read option. On ten quarterback carries, he netted -33 yards and struggled to make the correct read at times.
Adding to their offensive struggles, the usually formidable Husky o-line gave way for five sacks, eight tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries, a stark contrast to last season, when the o-line allowed five QB pressures on the season and lead the FBS in fewest sacks allowed. This may be chalked up to first game jitters and allowing some time for the line to fully gel. Expect senior tackle Max Scharping to rebound after a mundane week one performance. At 6’6” and 320 lbs, he is one of the top NFL prospects entering 2018 and was one of the biggest contributors to NIU’s success on the offensive line last season.
As if a litany of offensive woes wasn’t enough for the Huskies, kicker Andrew Gantz, a graduate transfer from Cincinnati, and a Lou Groza semi-finalist in 2014 and 2015 before being sidelined with numerous hip injuries, went 0-2 on field goal attempts. The first, a 33-yard attempt on their first drive, was particularly shocking considering his effectiveness during his time with the Bearcats, while his second kick, a 49-yard attempt that sailed wide right, is certainly not a gimme for most teams.
Considering Utah’s strength on the defensive side of the ball, Northern Illinois offensive struggles likely won’t come to an end in week two. Whether or not Utah’s own offensive deficiencies have improved since game one could be the difference maker.