By now, most of you know Northern Illinois cornerback Rashaan Melvin was unable to play Saturday during a three-point loss at Kansas.
The reason is injury-related. The injury is unknown. Part of NIU coach Dave Doeren’s philosophy is a refusal to discuss the specifics on injuries, which is in his team’s best interest but a frustration for fans and media who yearn for information.
One thing is perfectly clear: Melvin’s absence left a massive void in the Huskies defense.
“It hurts when you lose probably our best defensive back,” Doeren said Saturday.
Melvin’s absence changed the game. As close as it was, I have no doubt the Huskies would have won with Melvin on the field, probably by a touchdown or two.
Melvin, who was a game-time decision Saturday, is not NIU’s best defensive player, but he is the Huskies’ top defensive playmaker. He can cut the field in half for opposing offenses. Army rarely challenged him in the opener, and Melvin still got one interception.
Kansas’ 253 rushing yards were significant, but quarterback Jordan Webb’s ability to pass was much more harmful. Webb finished 21-of-30 for 281 yards and three touchdowns. With Melvin on the field, the Jayhawks quarterback would not have been remotely effective.
“Coach calls him the ‘Guardian of the Island,’ ” said cornerback Sean Evans, who started at nickelback in place of Jimmie Ward, Melvin’s replacement. “He’s a true leader on the field, as well as off the field. He’s a big-time player for our defense.”
Melvin’s status for NIU’s 2:30 p.m. game Saturday against Wisconsin at Soldier Field is unspecified. Doeren said Melvin “had an injury he probably could have played through, but might have re-hurt it and been out for a while.” Doeren said it was in the season’s best interest for Melvin to sit Saturday.
That sounds like someone who possibly could play if needed. And Melvin will be needed.
The Badgers dominated their first two games, winning by a combined 86-17. They shut out Oregon State, 35-0, on Saturday.
Wisconsin runs the football as well as ever. Quarterback Russell Wilson, a transfer from North Carolina State, has catapulted its passing offense from ninth out of 11 Big Ten teams in 2010 to fourth out of 12 this fall.
“It hurts when you don’t have one or your best guys on the field, there’s no doubt,” Doeren said. “Especially against a team that played as well as they did tonight.”
He was talking about Kansas, picked to finish 1-11 this season – some prediction, huh? – and last in the Big 12. Wisconsin is in another class. The seventh-ranked Badgers are the clear favorite to win the Big Ten and a legitimate national title contender.
Melvin may play. He may not. Doeren’s secrecy makes it hard to know. But I don’t see how the Huskies can be competitive without their junior corner.
Nothing conceals that.
• Ryan Wood is a sports reporter for the Daily Chronicle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.