Final thoughts: NIU 52, Arkansas 14
I thought the Huskies would put more points on the board and keep things closer. However, NIU just couldn't move the ball consistently all night.
The bottom line is Arkansas is just a much better, bigger and talented team. NIU wasn't "exposed" or anything like that tonight.
NIU is still a favorite to win the MAC West, and this could very well be the Huskies' only loss of the season.
You can't afford to spot a team like Arkansas 14 points on the road, and that was one thing that ultimately doomed NIU on Saturday.
Halftime: Arkansas 28, NIU 7
Things went better for the Huskies in the second, at least until Brandon Allen's 10-yard TD pass to Jared Cornelius.
The Huskies were able to put together a nice drive which resulted in an 11-yard TD pass from Drew Hare to Aregeros Turner to get on the board.
Still, the disaster that was the first seven minutes of this game is haunting NIU right now.
End of the first quarter: Arkansas 21, NIU 0
Everyone thought Arkansas would be able to put up a fair share of points against NIU – just not the way the Razorbacks have been doing it.
Arkansas' Korliss Marshall took the opening kickoff for a touchdown, and the Razorbacks got their second score after recovering a Drew Hare fumble and taking it to the end zone.
The Razorbacks' showed off their rushing moxie at the end of the quarter with a 15-yard TD run by Jonathan Williams.
NIU's offense has had a few big plays, mainly a long screen pass catch by Joel Bouagnon, and the Huskies have the ball to start the second quarter.
15 minutes until kickoff
Good news on the injury front, both Jamaal Bass and Akeem Daniels are dressed, so it looks like they will go. Bass' news is big considering Arkansas' potent offense. Cameron Stingily should get the majority of the touches at tailback, and you should see a fair amount of Daniels (if he is going to give it a go), and to a lesser extent Joel Bouagnon.
Tommylee Lewis made the trip, but is not dressed.
Half hour until kickoff
I'm sitting up here in the open press box at Razorback Stadium with a great view of the field, and great weather. Sorry, not trying to rub it in to the folks still up north but the weather couldn't be better.
I'm very intrigued by this game, as its the best nonconference opponent NIU has faced in quite awhile. It will be a huge test for the Huskies, but at the same time Arkansas should be on upset alert.
While you're getting ready for the matchup, check out our preview coverage for today's game.
Preview story: NIU amped to tangle with Arkansas
Five storylines: NIU-Arkansas
– Steve Nitz, firstname.lastname@example.org, @SNitz_DDC
Thomas Murphy covers Arkansas for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and took some time out of his day to answer some questions about the Razorbacks. You can follow him on Twitter at @TomMurphyADG
Steve Nitz: Bret Bielema is in his second season as Razorbacks coach after making the move down south from Wisconsin. I know it's early, but do you get the sense that after a down year in 2013, the program is turning the corner after the John L. Smith fiasco of 2012?
Murphy: Funny you should ask that, as it was the theme for a story I wrote on Wednesday. The Razorbacks are definitely improved, and it looks like substantially so at defensive back, linebacker and quarterback, which were all problem areas in 2013. The Hogs have something to hang their hats on – a bruising offensive line and a bevy of talented runners – but there are still issues with timing in the passing game, and their tackling against Auburn in the opener was atrocious. The definition of "turning the corner" probably means ready to compete in their own division and the jury is still out on that. They lost by 24 points to the defending SEC champion and the Razorbacks have four more games against SEC West teams in the Top 10 and two games vs. SEC East teams in the Top 20. They might be much-improved but still not have a lot of wins to show for it at season's end. However, if they are successful in turnover margin and possess the ball and score, they could give even higher-rated teams trouble.
Nitz: Despite what Bielema does this season, how many Arkansas fans would still prefer Bobby Petrino leading the program?
Murphy: Good question and I can't give you a percentage, but there are definitely some. However, the more that comes out on the way Petrino treated employees, such as some of what appeared in the Sports Illustrated article on him, the more Petrino die-hards pull away from him. No one can argue the guy can't coach – 21-5 in 2010 and '11 speaks to that – and the cold-blooded style in which he attacked teams and schemed up home-run plays was appealing to many fans. However, seeing a roster with massive holes in it because he was not an ace recruiter and knowing now how he treated some people in the department, fewer fans would rage to have him return some day as he did to Louisville.
Nitz: Speaking of Petrino, could you describe the experience of covering that circus two years ago?
Murphy: I've covered several NCAA investigations, the Mike DuBose meltdown at Alabama in 2000 and the Mike Price fiasco there in 2003, and the Petrino affair might've topped them all for wildness. He wanted to do his Tuesday press conference in the neck brace and puffy face two days after the Harley wreck to show he was a tough guy, but I suppose he didn't realize he could get hung up a little on relating the story while trying to talk around Jessica Dorrell's presence on the bike. If he hadn't paid her $20k he might have survived the incident. There were some crazy moments during it all, like nearly being run over by his son Nick Petrino when the decision to fire him came down.
Nitz: Razorback tailbacks Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams have been running around everyone so far this year. What are each back's main strengths?
Murphy: Both are physical guys who have run through numerous arm tackles already this season, racking up 257 yards after contact among their 357 combined rushing yards at Texas Tech last week. Williams' work ethic, balance and power, and his passion for squeezing every available yard out of his touches are his calling cards. Collins added about 15 pounds in the offseason to better withstand the rigors of careening between the tackles and it's showed in more rugged runs. His vision and cutting instincts at speed are top-notch traits. Neither is super flashy in terms of speed, but each has a touchdown of 84-plus yards this year. Collins had trouble shedding the final defender last year, but he has proved better at that through three games as a sophomore.
Nitz: What's the main strength of the Arkansas defense? Any certain player NIU fans should watch for?
Murphy: Many analysts would say the secondary and linebackers are still a bit shaky, despite consecutive decent showings, one against Texas Tech's formidable spread passing attack. So the unit's top strength is its play up front. Defensive end Trey Flowers is one of the SEC's best, and young tackles Taiwan Johnson and Darius Philon have flashed at times. The Razorbacks have yet to play a quality pro-style passing attack this year to judge whether their pass rush is formidable, which makes this game intriguing. Auburn and Texas Tech got the ball out quickly and Arkansas had just one sack in the two games, and their six sacks against hapless Nicholls State are inconclusive. Eyes out for the end No. 86 Flowers, hard-hitting linebacker No. 47 Martrell Spaight and cornerback No. 23 Tevin Mitchel, who will be in his second game back from a hamstring injury after struggling in coverage and tackling in 2013.
– Steve Nitz, email@example.com, @SNitz_DDC
DeKALB – Northern Illinois will have its hands full with Arkansas' rushing attack this week.
Something that would help would be the return of linebacker Jamaal Bass, who has been recovering from a leg injury.
At his weekly press conference Tuesday, Carey said Bass "has a real good chance of being ready to go" at Arkansas.
Having the 2013 All-MAC linebacker return will be extremely important against a team which is averaging 362 yards per game on the ground.
"We'll know a lot more today (after practice)," Carey said. "Just knowing how he's been progressing I think he has a real good shot to play this week."
Other notes from Tuesday:
• Carey isn't sure about wideout Tommylee Lewis, who didn't play at UNLV. Lewis spent the summer recovering from a foot injury, and Carey said it's a different injury but related.
• Akeem Daniels only got one carry at UNLV, Carey said he's dealing with "bumps and bruises." Carey said that he'll be given every opportunity to play against Arkansas.
• Carey said he wasn't sure if Anthony Maddie will see any time. He's played two series' each of the past two weeks.
– Steve Nitz, firstname.lastname@example.org, @SNitz_DDC
End of the third quarter: NIU 31, UNLV 26
Well, the tables have turned a bit here in Nevada.
At halftime, it was all Huskies, and it looked like they would cruise to victory.
After a sloppy third quarter, NIU holds just a five-point lead, though NIU does have the ball.
• Was surprised to see Anthony Maddie get a series in the third, and I don't really see the reason for it. Felt Carey should have just stuck with Hare.
• Hare has played well, but he has missed a couple of deep balls. Aregeros Turner would have had a touchdown in the third quarter if Hare's pass was on.
Halftime: NIU 21, UNLV 5
NIU's offensive line is currently taking UNLV to school.
The Huskies backs have had a ton of room to run the ball, and the receivers have fared well with the jet sweeps. I see NIU pulling away in the second half.
• Drew Hare has played well, he's currently 10 of 17 for 117 yards and two touchdowns, and has 42 rushing yards.
• NIU is an outstanding 9 of 10 on third-down conversions.
• Look for the Huskies to feature a heavy running game in the second half. They should have no problem running the ball.
End of the first quarter: NIU 7, UNLV 5
Overall, I thought the offense looked pretty good in the first quarter, outside of the Desroy Maxwell chop block in the end zone which resulted in a safety.
The offensive line has looked great, and the Huskies should be able to wear UNLV down.
• NIU has been great on third down, as the Huskies are currently 5 for 5.
• I don't see Matt McIntosh on the sidelines. I'll ask Carey about him after the game.
10 minutes until kickoff
I'm here at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, with NIU and UNLV about to get underway. NIU is a 10-point favorie and if the Huskies play to their potential, they'll come away with a victory.
I will be keeping an eye on Drew hare making his first start, as well as how NIU uses Cameron Stingily. My guess is he'll be more involved in the game plan this week.
I'll be tweeting live updates from @HuskieWire throughout the game. Be sure to check out all our coverage from the contest on Huskiewire.com.
Mark Anderson covers UNLV for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He took some time out of his schedule to discuss the Rebels and Saturday's game against Northern Illinois.
The following is an edited transcript:
Steve Nitz: The first question I have to ask is this - everyone loves to visit
Las Vegas. What's it like living out there?
Mark Anderson: What's shocking to many people is living in Las Vegas is much like
living just about anywhere else. We have malls and grocery stores and
schools, and we actually live in neighborhoods. The common perception
is we all live on the Strip, but the truth is most locals seldom go
there unless they work for one of the resorts. We do have neighborhood
casinos, so that does make us different. And one great thing about
living here is we do have access to great restaurants and
entertainment if we want to take advantage of those, but those aren't
part of daily life.
Nitz: As for football, the Rebels have gotten off to a rough start, with
a blowout loss at Arizona and close win at home against FCS Northern
Colorado. What's been the main issue with UNLV so far?
Anderson: If only it was one main issue. The defense was lousy in the opener at
Arizona, and the Rebels didn't have much of a running game. Against
Northern Colorado, the passing game was missing, and UNLV had four
interceptions. Neither game provided optimism this will be much of a
season, but those at UNLV still insist they have a good team. That
team certainly will be tested Saturday.
Nitz: What type of quarterback is UNLV starter Blake Decker? What are his
strengths and weaknesses?
Anderson: He has the ability to run and pass, which is needed in the spread
offense. That offense also uses some zone read. Decker doesn't have
great arm strength, but he's accurate and is athletic enough when he
keeps to gain some good yardage. But Decker also is inexperienced, and
that showed in his decision-making against Northern Colorado.
Nitz: There was talk about UNLV moving into an on-campus stadium and
leaving Sam Boyd. What's the latest on this situation?
Anderson: It was decided to delay bringing a stadium to the Legislature until
2017 because of other university priorities, such as the creation of a
medical school. The thinking was it wouldn't get approved next year. I
wouldn't hold my breath that it will ever get approved.