DeKALB – The pause lasted six seconds, and Alex Carder blinked out every tick.
“Sorry,” Western Michigan’s junior quarterback said. “I’m still a little bit shocked.”
Few could blame him. Carder was stunned at what his formerly explosive offense failed to do during Northern Illinois 51-22 win Saturday, and what the Huskies defensive line did to him could rattle anybody.
Four sacks. Constant pressure. After its eight-sack performance against Kent State, this was as good of an encore as anyone could have hoped for.
“I think with the scheme [defensive coordinator Jay] Niemann had against them on third down, they didn’t know what to do with the blitzes and twists that we had coming,” said junior defensive end Sean Progar, who had one sack and now leads the Mid-American Conference with 4.5, already more than he had last season. “I give it up to the coaches, because they had us in the backfield all game.”
It was the same pressure NIU (4-3, 2-1 MAC West) had the previous week, but there were still so many differences.
Kent State is a bad offense, the worst statistically of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. The Flashes also had a first-time, freshman quarterback behind center most of the game. It was difficult to determine how much credit NIU’s defensive line deserved, and how much was simply bad football.
Western Michigan (4-3, 2-1 MAC West) was the opposite. The Broncos entered Huskie Stadium with a legitimate 32.5 points per game, ranked near the MAC’s elite in total offense, armed with one of the league’s best quarterbacks.
Carder said the offense thought too highly of itself, a unit bloated with pride. Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit said it was simply too many breakdowns, especially along the offensive line.
“When you don’t block anybody,” Cubit said, shugging when asked how impressed he was with NIU’s defensive line. “And give [NIU] credit. They did a heck of a job. But when you don’t block people and they just come scot-free, that’s just ... that’s inexcusable.”
It wasn’t just the defensive line. To stop an offense like Western Michigan’s, it takes a complete effort.
The Huskies front did their job getting to Carder. Their secondary mixed coverages, confusing the Broncos vaunted passing game.
“[Carder] held the ball a lot longer,” Doeren said. “I know coming into the game he was getting rid of the ball in two to three seconds, and he couldn’t do that today.”
When it was over, Carder was simply dazed. While NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish was running around, making plays and snaring title of the MAC’s best quarterback, Carder was held to 25 of 43 for 194 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
“It’s just unexpected,” Carder said.
The same could be said about NIU’s second straight quality defensive performance. As the Huskies defensive players have said for a while, maybe it’s time to adjust expectations.
It was Western Michigan’s defensive line that entered Saturday with the kudos and hype. Progar said he didn’t pay attention to it. But still, there had to be some gratification. After weeks of ineffectiveness, NIU’s defense line has turned into the unit it always said it would be.
“I know we strive, I know [defensive line coach Ryan] Nielsen strives for us to be the best defensive line in the MAC, the best defensive line in general,” Progar said. “I know that’s what the guys work for, and I know we come to practice every day with that mentality. Regardless of other defensive lines, we’ve got to come to play, and we played well today.”