DeKALB – Two weeks later, Nathan Palmer still isn’t convinced Northern Illinois’ offensive letdown against No. 7 Wisconsin happened.
As far as NIU’s senior receiver is concerned, that group at Soldier Field was unrecognizable. The unit that scored 42 points at Kansas the previous Saturday, 47 against Cal Poly last week, and has been unstoppable for the better part of a year is the Huskies’ true offense.
“We kind of had a rude awakening when we went up against Wisconsin,” Palmer said. “I really, firmly still believe that that wasn’t us at all. Us as players, we kind of got away from things that we normally do. We got caught up in the moment and everything.
“But it felt good to get out there [against Cal Poly] and exorcise our demons a little bit.”
Palmer said NIU’s offense got back on track Saturday because it returned to normalcy – scoring fast, wearing down defenses with physicality and an uptempo pace. He hopes the Huskies’ no-huddle doesn’t slow at 2:30 p.m. Saturday when Mid-American Conference play opens at Central Michigan.
“We thrive on playing fast,” Palmer said. “And I think that we got away from that when we played Wisconsin. We were out there a little slow, we kind of played their tempo a little bit. We have to get teams to play our tempo.
“Our offense now is like basketball on grass. We have to play fast, fast, fast paced, get out there and move the ball.”
He said it so many times, it was exhausting to hear. Fans have wondered whether the other end of NIU’s no-huddle is exhausting for players. With how little time it takes the Huskies to score, their struggling defense spends even more time on the field.
Defensive tackle Nabal Jefferson had just finished denouncing any notion that the offense’s no-huddle was fatiguing. The defense defends the no-huddle every day in practice, he said. The games should offer a bit of a break.
“We don’t get too tired,” Jefferson said. “Our practices are very intense, very fast. It makes those breaks [with the offense on the field] seem like a long time. So I don’t get too tired.”
Then defensive back Jimmie Ward leaned in to the microphone. The sophomore wasn’t having it.
“Well, besides Nabal, it depends,” he said. “If we don’t [go] three-and-out, I’m tired. But I have to push myself and motivate myself to keep going.”
More than the offense’s uptempo pace, the defense’s inability to get stops early in possessions is the main culprit for a unit that constantly has looked winded in the fourth quarter. Any defense gets tired when it’s unsuccessful on third down.
With that in mind, it’s unlikely NIU willingly will slow its fastbreak. No one wants to hinder one side to help the other. It already is clear what happens when the Huskies plod.
“We just lost our rhythm,” tight end Adam Kiel said, referencing the Wisconsin letdown. “A lot of things we were doing in the first couple games, we couldn’t get to in that game. We had a great practice all week and just didn’t put it out there on Saturday. So we came back and went back to fundamentals.
“We change tempo to get the defense on their heels, that way they’re playing our football and we’re not playing their football. We switch up personnel a lot, keep them on their toes. That’s one thing that I thought we did very well this weekend, was switching it up and keeping the defense guessing.”