AKRON, Ohio – Sometimes it’s frustrating to be a Northern Illinois wide receiver.
For the Huskies’ wideouts, the downside of playing in the Mid-American Conference’s best rushing attack is that usually they do more blocking than pass catching.
But with Akron focused on slowing MAC leading rusher Chad Spann and the NIU rushing attack, they got their chance to shine on Saturday as the Huskies (3-2, 1-0 MAC) opened up the passing game during a 50-14 victory over Akron.
And the NIU receivers didn’t disappoint as four Huskies had more than 45 receiving yards: Martel Moore (85 yards), Nathan Palmer (65), Landon Cox (58) and Willie Clark (46).
“They were stepping up and putting eight people in the box, so we knew we had to go to the air and expose them this game and just show what the wideouts can do,” said Moore, a sophomore who had a team-high six catches.
“We got our chance to have the ball in the air this game, so we got to take our opportunity to the next level to show all the coaches that we can really go out there and catch the ball. You’ve seen it. Our whole receiving core is really good.”
Moore, who leads the Huskies with 19 catches and 179 yards, has emerged as NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish’s favorite target early in the season after beating out Clark, a junior, during training camp for the starting X receiver.
But Harnish, who passed for a season-high 281 yards, spread the love against Akron, giving the other three prominent players in the receiver rotation opportunities to make plays.
Cox made an acrobatic 32-yard grab on the sideline in the second quarter to set up the Huskies’ first touchdown. Clark was Harnish’s favorite target in the red zone, hauling in a career-high two touchdown receptions, while Palmer’s 58-yard touchdown in the third quarter was the Huskies’ longest completion of the year.
“Martel, he’s a heck of a player,” Harnish said. “He’s got a tremendous upside. Really, it wasn’t just Martel tonight though. Nate Palmer made some great catches. Willie Clark, Landon Cox, those guys made plays tonight and that’s what we need. We just got to trust them and if we do they’re going to make a lot of plays for us.”
The Huskies, who lead the MAC in rushing by almost 100 yards per game, won’t soon abandon their ground-it-out roots and actually rushed for 228 yards on Saturday. But Saturday’s rout of the Zips (0-5, 0-1 MAC) showed a group of sometimes neglected receivers are just as useful weapons for the NIU offense.
“I think people with Chad Spann and the publicity we’ve gotten running the ball over the past 2 1/2 years, I think people question if we can throw the ball enough out on the edges with our receivers,” NIU coach Jerry Kill said. “I think people are going to realize we got good receivers, good athletes. We had some kids make some great catches tonight.”