Preview 2017: Northern Illinois Huskies

Preview 2017: Northern Illinois Huskies

Teams & Conferences

Preview 2017: Northern Illinois Huskies

Preview 2017: Northern Illinois Huskies


Previewing and looking ahead at the Northern Illinois Huskies season – and what you need to know.


Contact @PeteFiutak

2017 Northern Illinois Preview: The MAC Star Needs A Break?
2017 Northern Illinois Schedule Breakdown & Analysis
– Northern Illinois Previews: 2016 | 2015

What You Need To Know About The Northern Illinois Offense

It wasn’t the high-powered O from the Jordan Lynch days, but the running game was solid enough to get by the mediocre teams on the slate. But – for another year – quarterback injuries were a killer.

Four different quarterbacks saw significant time, and it proved costly – there was never any consistency. Now, with Anthony Madide done, it’ll be up to Ryan Graham, Daniel Santacaterina, and a new guy in the mix, redshirt freshman Marcus Childers, to try getting everything moving.

Leading rusher Joel Bouagnon is gone, but Jordan Huff is a good one to potentially carry the ground game. More options have to step up, with the second-leading returning rusher coming up with just 49 yards. With three starters back up front, and considering what a machine NIU is at coming up with good linemen, the front five should be fine.

The receiving corps has to replace all-star deep playmaker Kenny Golladay along with Aregeros Turner, and now Christian Blake has to become a No. 1 guy.

Biggest Key To The Northern Illinois Offense

Replace the stars. Coming up with a steady starting quarterback is the biggest concern – more on this in a moment – but the Huskies need the rest of the playmakers to help the cause. Bougnon was a three-year mainstay of a running back, and Golladay was a special NFL-caliber receiver. With the lack of depth at running back, and with several new receivers needing to shine, the O needs to get better despite losing some of its best players.

What You Need To Know About The Northern Illinois Defense

It was a rough year. The Huskies allowed way too many yards and struggled way too much against decent ground games, but there’s hope for a secondary that should be fantastic.

The NIU pass defense allowed 251 yards per game, but it generated most of the big plays with 14 interceptions on the season. With CB Shawun Lurry back along with all the other starters and backups, all they need is a little bit of a pass rush.

The top two tacklers are gone – both from the linebacking corps – needing the undersized Lance Deveaux to become a bigger star on the outside. Top defensive linemen Ladell Fleming is gone fro one end, and Corey Thomas is done at tackle, but enough good young players are back to work around.

Biggest Key To The Northern Illinois Defense

Keep the passing games from being consistently good. The veteran secondary will give up its share of big plays, but it’ll also pick off a slew of passes. It took a while for the interceptions to come, but they happened, and they should be flowing again.

But it all should come down to the completion percentage. NIU got picked too cleanly and gave up too many yards per pass over the first part of the season, but when the opposing passing attacks completed fewer than half of their passes, the Huskies won. Just make plays, Huskies.

Northern Illinois Will Be Far Better If …

It starts to win all of the close games again. The days of dominance and owning the MAC thanks to a high-powered, unstoppable ground game might be over, but as long as the Huskies are able to win the close call battles, they should be fine.

Last year, they lost two overtime games, clunked against Western Illinois, and couldn’t fight past Toledo. NIU was 0-4 in games decided by six point or fewer. Win just two of those, and it would’ve been a bowl campaign.

Best Northern Illinois Offensive Player

OT Max Scharping, Jr. – The best blocker on another great NIU offensive line, the 6-6, 312-pound held down a starting spot from the first moment he got on the field. The veteran right tackle earned First Team All-MAC honors, but he could move to the left side without a problem with the size and feet to get even better in pass protection. He’s the one the O works behind for the ground game.

2. RB Jordan Huff, Sr.
3. C Luke Shively, Jr.
4. WR Christian Blake, Sr.
5. OG Jordan Steckler, Soph.

Best Northern Illinois Defensive Player

CB Shawun Lurry, Sr. – While he didn’t match his All-America caliber 2015 campaign – coming up with nine picks and 43 tackles – he was still excellent with 11 broken up passes and three picks. While he’s a smallish 5-8 and 180 pounds, he’s ultra-quick to the ball and feisty against the run, coming up with 38 stops. Throw in his punt return ability and he’s the team’s most dangerous playmaker.

2. S Brandon Mayes, Sr.
3. DE Josh Cororan, Jr.
4. LB Bobby Jones IV, Sr.
5. CB Daniel Isom, Jr.

Key Player To A Successful Season

QB Ryan Graham, Jr. Or Daniel Santacaterina, or redshirt freshman Marcus Childers. Louisville transfer Kyle Bolin was even in the potential equation before he chose Rutgers. As long as NIU finally has a starting quarterback who can stay in one piece and give the offense some consistency, that’s all that matters.

The 6-1, 210-pound Graham had a few big moments, but suffered a leg injury. Santacaterina struggled to throw – hitting just 47% of his passes – but he was under center in wins over Eastern Michigan and Kent State on the road to close out the season.

They’re the ones likely battling it out, but Childers is the X factor. The 6-0, 229-pound redshirt freshman is a dangerous runner with the quickness to grow into the job. Good enough this spring to get a longer look, it’s going to be a battle for the gig.

The Northern Illinois Season Will Be A Success If …

It wins the MAC West. Considering this was the MAC’s superpower for a long, long time, getting to the MAC title game is still where the bar is set – at the very least. It’s certainly not going to beat easy in a division with Toledo and Western Michigan, but the battle with the Broncos is at home. The conference slate just isn’t that bad, but even if NIU can’t get back to Detroit, at least it had better get bowling again.

Key Game To The Northern Illinois Season

Nov. 2 at Toledo – The Rockets might be the star of the West, if it’s not Western Michigan. NIU came close to pulling off the win in what was U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, but just missed. Now, to have any hopes of taking back the West, this is a must win on the road on a Thursday night nationally-televised showdown.

2016 Northern Illinois Fun Stats

– Northern Illinois Takeaways: 14 interceptions – 2 fumbles
– Northern Illinois 1st Quarter Scoring: 55 – 2nd Quarter Scoring 102
– Sacks: Northern Illinois 22 for 159 yards – Opponents 8 for 47 yards

2017 Northern Illinois Preview: The MAC Star Needs A Break?
2017 Northern Illinois Schedule Breakdown & Analysis
– Northern Illinois Previews: 2016 | 2015

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