WEST POINT, N.Y. – During the third quarter of Northern Illinois’ 41-40 win over Army on Saturday, Huskies head coach Dave Doeren glanced up at the Michie Stadium scoreboard.
What Doeren saw were a ton of rushing yards.
The Black Knights ended the game with 486 yards on the ground. It was an example of the triple option at its finest. Fullback Raymond Maples ran for 159 yards, halfback Larry Dixon added another 136 and quarterback Trent Steelman finished with 116.
It was the first time the Black Knights had three players run for more than 100 yards since a 1996 victory over Rugters.
When Doeren saw that highly impressive rushing total, he told his defense to just forget about it.
The group still needed to get big stops and help when the game, which it did when linebacker Boomer Mays tackled Steelman on a fourth down with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Huskies took over and ran out the clock.
“I looked at the defense and said ‘don’t look at the scoreboard,’” Doeren said. “I said ‘nobody’s going to remember what it says if we win, so just play.’ ”
It wasn’t a pretty performance by the Huskies defense, which looked strong the first two weeks of the year.
And it’s not easy going up against a triple option. Maples got his yards on the dive play. Steelman did a great job keeping the ball and getting good yards, and he pitched it when he had to.
It creates a ton of confusion for defenses, which have to stay disciplined.
“It was pretty much what we thought it was going to be. They had some different blocking schemes for us that we weren’t ready for, but as coach said, we adjusted well eventually,” said Huskies defensive end Sean Progar, who had eight tackles. “We missed a few tackles that we should have made. I think that was the biggest thing. But we rallied at the end and that’s all that matters.”
This week, the Huskies get back to what Doeren called “normal football” against Kansas, which features a pro-style attack. The Jayhawks beat NIU, 45-42, in a game last season that was all too similar to Saturday’s contest in West Point.
“I really could care less about [stats] right now, all I care is that we got a ‘W’ and we have to go home and start playing normal football again. Army is a very unique team and they’re a much better team than they showed in Week 1. I told our team that,” Doeren said. “They were a young team last year; they returned almost all of their guys, a four-year starter at quarterback. They’re going to have a good season.”