DeKALB – Cut blocks return to Huskie Stadium on Saturday, along with wingback pitches, fullback dives and quarterback keeps.
Usually, in a culture of spread and pro formations, defending an option offense is a one-time deal. After opening against Army, Northern Illinois’ defense gets its second look at the option 2:30 p.m. Saturday against Cal Poly of the Football Championship Subdivision.
“It’s definitely a unique style of offense and style of play, and a lot of teams are starting to go to it,” senior linebacker Jordan Delegal said. “You can kind of get defenses off balance with that. But our coaches have done a great job of coaching us with the first game in Army, and keeping us disciplined in our keys and reads and stuff like that.”
Cal Poly runs a unique spread-option that differs from Army’s pure wishbone formation. At times, the Mustangs spread the field, like Kansas and many other teams. On other plays, they tighten their formation with wingbacks.
NIU has to be ready for both.
“There will probably definitely be a lot more running, obviously,” senior defensive lineman Kyle Jenkins said when asked about the differences between Cal Poly and Army. “When they spread it out, they’re going to probably take it to the outside on the edge a lot more than Army did. But really I feel like we’re probably going to get a lot of the same looks.
“We’re just going to stick to what we know best.”
The benefit, as Jenkins pointed out, is NIU prepared an entire offseason for the option. By any measure, the defense had its best game of the season against Army. The Huskies played true spread and pro-style offenses the past two weeks, but they haven’t forgotten their option keys.
The difficulty with the Mustangs is their ability to line up differently, which allows them to run several different styles. And, like NIU, the Mustangs move fast.
“I think it’s a lot more difficult, particularly when they’re doing it in a no-huddle,” Doeren said. “You just can’t do a lot of things. You know, they’re an option team, so you’ve got to be sound. You’ve got to pick your chances as far as pressure so that you’re option-sound. But when they do break it, you’ve got to be simple enough where you’re guys aren’t thinking.”
Doeren is preparing for Cal Poly. He’s more concerned with how his team plays. He said Tuesday there was defensive improvement against Wisconsin, despite the 49 points and 621 yards the Huskies allowed the Badgers.
Cal Poly can run any formation it wants. Doeren isn’t worried, as long as his defenses plays like it did early in the season.
“You saw how fast they played in the first game,” Doeren said. “We’ve got to get back to that.”