CHICAGO – Dressed in street clothes as his teammates prepared for Saturday’s 18-17 loss to Iowa, Northern Illinois senior Logan Pegram consulted his young teammates on the offensive line.
Before he fractured his leg three weeks ago, Pegram was pegged as the only returning starter and senior in the group.
Pegram’s words of wisdom are all that’s left of the starting offensive line that allowed only 12 sacks last season, protecting quarterback Chandler Harnish as he put up historic numbers for the Mid-American Conference champions. His absence left two redshirt freshman, two sophomores and a junior protecting first-year starting quarterback Jordan Lynch on Saturday.
“He gave us some insight on playing against a tough opponent,” redshirt freshman guard Aidan Conlon said after Saturday’s loss. “Losing Logan is a big loss, it was really tough at first.”
In their first game as a unit, the young offensive line performed admirably early on against an Iowa defensive line that coach Dave Doeren touted as “one of the best fundamental defensive lines in America.”
Coach Dave Doeren kept the game plan simple for the youthful group.
The Huskies ran 19 times in the first half for 78 yards, and passed just eight times. In the first quarter, the Huskies passed just three times, completing two passes for 18 yards. Each pass was a designed roll-out to the right, giving Lynch more time to work with.
Lynch passed five times from the pocket in the second quarter and was only touched once on those plays.
Because of the inexperience up front, Doeren kept things simple in the running game. But Northern Illinois was able to chip off yardage on the run, rushing for 47 yards and a touchdown in a drive that stretched from the end of the first quarter to the beginning of the second.
“You’d be surprised, we don’t have a lot for them,” Doeren said. “We have a couple of run plays, we just dress them up in different ways, with motions and shifts. There’s not a ton of stuff going on from a blocking scheme standpoint from our offensive line. We’ll keep doing what we do. We’ll get better what we do as the year goes on.”
Run production changed starkly in the second half. The Huskies rushed for at least six yards five times in the first half, while accomplishing the feat just twice in the second half.
Lynch gave Conlon credit for opening up a hole on his 73-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, but the Huskies ran for negative yards five times in the second half after losing yards just twice in the first.
The Huskies ran the same running plays again and again, and Iowa was able to plug every hole late in the game. Conlon thinks the game plan will become effective when the offensive line is more polished.
“We’re going back to the basics, like they did last year,” Conlon said. “They dress up a lot of [similar plays], which makes things a lot easier. We’ve just got to execute.”
With time, Doeren is confident his offensive line will become a solid group.
Saturday, he said, was a step toward that.
“There are a lot of technique things they’ll get better at,” Doeren said. “I thought our guys held their own … We had three redshirt freshman playing on the offensive line at times and I thought they fought their butts off.”