TORONTO – Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill summed up the speed of South Florida's defense in one play, a fourth-quarter reverse to wide receiver Nathan Palmer.
"It looked like a wide-open field," Kill said. "Then you snap your fingers and there's three people over there."
The Huskies offense was beat to the punch by at least a step all day in their 27-3 International Bowl loss to USF on Saturday.
The game started with a 4th-and-1 fake punt run by Justin Anderson that was sniffed out and stuff by USF on the Huskies first drive, was followed up by a pair of first quarter 4th-and-1 punts and then got worse from there for NIU.
The Huskies couldn't convert, going 3 of 13 on third downs, and couldn't move the ball consistently on USF, finishing with just 11 first downs, 238 yards of offense and a lone field goal – where the Huskies drive stalled at the USF 4-yard line – on the scoreboard.
"They were a good team, a good defense, but I felt like we could match up with them," NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish said. "We just didn't execute and, on my part, I just didn't have a good day. That's unacceptable."
Harnish's main regret was a third-quarter post route where he overthrew Martel Moore downfield and USF's Jerome Murphy came away with an interception – Murphy's second turnover in as many plays.
The first, a Chad Spann fumble Murphy picked up, went back to the Huskies when Murphy fumbled the ball back to Spann on the return.
USF then scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive, putting the game further out of reach at 20-3.
"They made some of those plays that we didn't," NIU coach Jerry Kill said. "There's no question that was the difference in the game."
Spann led the Huskies on the ground with 93 yards on 20 carries, but that wasn't nearly enough to get the Huskies going as Harnish finished 12 of 25 for 130 yards and an interception.
"As plays broke down, they would swallow me up or swallow Chandler up," Spann said. "They were very fast and it's hard to practice that with scout team players.
"They were probably the fastest team we've seen all season."
Kill said that athletic ability showed not only on the defensive line, where George Selvie, Jason Pierre-Paul and Terrell McClain pushed the Huskies around, but also with linebackers Kion Wilson, Chris Robinson and Sabbath Joseph in the linebacking corps and Murphy and Nate Allen in the secondary.
"Their linebackers can take a bad step and get back into the gap," Kill said. "They're just athletic, strong guys. It's like we saw a couple years ago at Tennessee.
"What was impressive was that they were not only big but they ran so well."
That speed and strength kept NIU from gaining any confidence or find any flow moving the ball.
"When we get our rhythm, we're dead on and we're hitting it back-to-back-to-back plays, scoring touchdowns," left guard Jason Onyebuagu said. "We just didn't have it today for some reason."
That lack of sync left the Huskies without many answers and with a whole lot of regrets.
"That post route, that's going to stick with me for a long time because – if that play gets completed – you never know if he gets loose and scores a touchdown or scores some points," Harnish said. "Then the whole aspect of the game changes."