Final: NIU 40, KSU 10
Whether style points were important or not today, NIU sure got them.
The Huskies defense dominated the Football Bowl Subdiviison's worst statistical offense, leading the way for a 40-10 win against Kent State. The Golden Flashes' lone touchdown came when strong safety Luke Wollet returned NIU running back Jamal Womble's fumble 36 yards late in the fourth quarter.
This was the first complete performance of the season. NIU's defense held the Golden Flashes to 70 yards on 61 plays and only converted 1 of 15 third downs. Senior quarterback Chandler Harnish was efficient passing – 12 of 15, 113 yards and a touchdown – and added 65 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Kicker Mathew Sims made all four of his field goals.
Continue following HuskieWire later for full postgame coverage.
5:05 fourth quarter: NIU 40, KSU 3
1. Score touchdowns: Didn't happen enough today, but it didn't need to. NIU's defense had its best day of the season, leading the Huskies to a blowout lead despite four field goals. Next week, touchdowns will be required.
2. Avoid turnovers: Check, for the most part. Kent State entered with the second-most takeaways this season (13). One NIU "turnover" was when a blocked punt hit a Huskie player, a fluke play. The other has been a late fumble when the Huskies' backup offense was on the field.
3. Third-down defense: NIU's defense has held Kent State to 1 of 14 on third down. Wow.
4. Tackling: No doubt, the Huskies have swarmed to the football today.
5. Kickoffs: Special teams in general has been very solid (see: four field goals). Definitely a confidence boost in the third phase today.
End third quarter: NIU 33, KSU 3
Do you take the starters out on defense?
With NIU leading 33-3 after three quarters, that's really the only question left. Huskies coach Dave Doeren has inserted the backups when given a big lead this season, the opener against Army being the most notable example. But for a defense that was giving up almost 40 points per game entering today, seeing a 3 next to Kent State on the scoreboard should feel pretty good.
If it were me, I'd leave the starters in no question. Yes, the game is won at this point. You also need to make sure you leave Huskie Stadium with confidence. A 20-point fourth quarter – like what happened against Army – wouldn't ruin these past three periods. It wouldn't feel the same, either.
4:03 third quarter: NIU 33, KSU 3
At this point, it looks like NIU's defense is content to take out all its frustration on Kent State's quarterbacks.
Cedric McCloud has replaced Spencer Keith as the Golden Flash's signal caller in the second half, and the change hasn't helped. NIU is getting consistent pressure in the backfield on just about every snap. It's stat-padding time for a defensive line that hasn't gotten to the quarterback much this season.
Mathew Sims just made his fourth field goal of the day, this one from 34 yards. NIU leads 33-3 with 4:03 left in the third quarter.
If there has been one negative today, it's that NIU has settled for field goals too often. But that's for another time. NIU players are hopping around on the sideline, the energy is there, and the defense is leading the way.
Halftime: NIU 27, KSU 3
Now, there are no more excuses.
After 30 minutes of play against, granted, one of the worst teams in the MAC, NIU has proven it can put together a complete performance. The Huskies lead Kent State, 27-3, at halftime, but this hasn't been an offensive explosion.
NIU's defense has one touchdown and almost got another on a fumble return by sophomore CB Jhony Faustin, but Kent State quarterback Spencer Keith's pass was ruled incomplete. The defense has only allowed 29 yards on 29 Kent State plays, hasn't given up a third-down conversion on eight attempts and held the Golden Flashes to a field goal after a poor punt set up a short field.
That poor punt (heading into the wind) has been the only blemish for the special teams, which pieced together a couple quality returns. Kickoff coverage has also been solid all game, and kicker Mathew Sims has made both of his field goal attempts.
Finally, the offense has done its thing too.
NIU QB Chandler Harnish has 56 yards on nine carries, one of which went for a 26-yard touchdown. He is also 11 of 13 for 76 yards and a 3-yard touchdown to receiver Martel Moore. On 33 plays, NIU has 168 total yards.
Continue following HuskieWire for updates in the second half as well as full postgame coverage.
9:55 second quarter: NIU 21, KSU 3
If NIU doesn't keep the black uniforms next week, something is wrong.
The Huskies looked tough as it took the field today. Black unis have a tendancy to do that, especially in football. Their defense has played the same way, with the front seven dominating Kent State and making plays.
The Golden Flashes' three points came on a short field. Other than that, it's been lights out.
NIU's offense is rolling now after a slow start. QB Chandler Harnish has four carries for 40 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown run. He is also 7 of 9 for 31 yards and a pretty 3-yard, fade pass for touchdown to Martel Moore.
End first quarter: NIU 7, KSU 3
NIU approached kickoff today searching for a defensive answer. In the first 15 minutes against Kent State, the Huskies finally may have found one.
NIU's defensive line just had its best quarter of the season, dominating the Golden Flashes up front on almost every play. Defensive tackle Ron Newcomb has been a force. Fellow DT Nabal Jefferson returned a 25-yard interception for touchdown (Newcomb pressured QB Spencer Keith on the play).
The Huskies offense hasn't done much. Three possessions against a 14 mph wind. Three punts. But the defense has delivered so far, leading NIU to a 7-3 lead.
9:12 first quarter: NIU 7, Kent State 0
NIU's defense was looking for a difference maker. Enter, Ron Newcomb.
The senior defensive tackle blew up a Kent State running play for a 3-yard loss, setting up a 3rd and 13 on the Golden Flashes' opening drive. On the next play, Newcomb and freshman DE Jason Meehan pressured Kent State quarterback Spencer Keith into throwing a screen pass directly at DT Nabal Jefferson, who returned it for a 25-yard touchdown. It's the first return touchdown the Huskies defense has had since Nov. 20 against Ball State.
On the ensuing drive, NIU's defense overcame an offsides penalty on the first play to force a 3-and-out. It's early, but so far the defense is leading the way.
Kickoff: NIU v. Kent State
It's October – or at least that's what they tell me – but it feels much more like late August. It's 77 degrees here in DeKalb as NIU prepares for kickoff against Kent State. Humidity is 44 percent, and there is a stiff 14 mph breeze coming out of the south.
NIU won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff. Good opportunity here for the Huskies to get on the board early. A quick lead would certainly benefit the defense.
15 minutes before kickoff: NIU v. Kent State
Before kickoff, let's quickly review NIU's keys to beating Kent State.
1. Score touchdowns: Northern Illinois leads the Mid-American Conference with 37.2 points per game, a number that would be much higher if not for its seven-point dud against Wisconsin earlier this season. The Huskies defense is last in the 13-team conference in scoring, allowing 39.6 points per game. The lesson: Few games will be won this season kicking field goals.
2. Avoid turnovers: While it's difficult to conjure positives regarding Kent State, one easily stands out: the Golden Flashes defense creates turnovers. Kent State is second in the MAC with 13 takeaways this season. Turnovers haven't been a consistent problem for NIU, but last week's 17-0 hole at Central Michigan was greatly helped by a Chandler Harnish interception on the game's opening drive.
3. Third-down defense: Again, this one isn't going anywhere. Expect to see third down defense in this slot all season.
4. Tackling: This is a game NIU should win even if its doesn't tackle well. What about next week? Or the week after that? Beating Kent State isn't the only goal here. Building confidence and establishing the proper way to play the game are just as important.
5. Kickoffs: Expect there to be a lot of them for NIU, just as there has been for most of the season. Unlike many weeks, the Huskies defense clearly is more talented than the offense it will line up against today. If kickoff specialist Tyler Wedel and his coverage team force the Golden Flashes to drive the football a long way to score, NIU's defense should be fine.
30 minutes before kickoff: NIU v. Kent State
Time for some predictions...
This is a must-win game for NIU. There's no doubt about that. On top of that, new uniforms ZOMG. (Seriously, they look sharp. I like them.) NIU's defense shows up this week, and it's enough to get by against a terrible Kent State offense. Northern Illinois 38, Kent State 23. – John Sahly
After a terribly disappointing start to the MAC season, the Huskies will coast to a much-needed victory. The NIU defense needs a big game, and the Huskies are playing the right team for that - Kent State has scored over 12 just once in its five games. NIU 42, Kent State 17. – Anthony Zilis
The black uniforms are exactly what you'd imagine they'd be: fantastic. Although, to be honest, I'm a little surprised NIU didn't hold off until homecoming next week against Western Michigan. To me, the ploy speaks to how important this game is. It's a momentum-changing weekend, or at least it needs to be. I think it will take the apocalypse for NIU to score under 40, and the defense has one of its better days of the fall. NIU 42, Kent State 17. – Ryan Wood
45 minutes before kickoff: NIU v. Kent State
DeKALB – The black uniforms are out today at Huskie Stadium.
We're about 50 minutes before Northern Illinois' kickoff against Kent State. The Huskies are wearing new, black uniforms, complete with a red trim down the side. Trust me, they look sharp.
As for the game, you can debate it all you want. Are style points important? This is a must-win, as each of these next seven games will be.
Does it matter how NIU wins today against the worst offense in Football Bowl Subdivision?
This much I know. Entering next week's homecoming against a high-powered Western Michigan offense, NIU's defense needs to leave Huskie Stadium today with some confidence, something good to feel about. I don't think that can happen with a high-scoring shootuout on both sides.
On paper, this is a game NIU's defense should control with ease. Kent State averages less than two touchdowns and 200 yards offense per game. Of course, on paper, the same could have been said about NIU's game last week at Central Michigan, when it allowed 48 points to a struggling Chippewas offense.
This Huskies team knows how to say the right things. Can they do the right things? We're about to find out. Stay tuned to HuskieWire throughout the game and afterward for the best, full coverage.
– Ryan Wood, email@example.com