The Crisis in Canada: What Happened?

As much as it pains me, I watched the beatdown by USF on my DVR today and I'm glad that I did.  There were a lot of things that I didn't see the first time around.

All this game did was put a giant magnifying glass over the areas where the NIU football team lacks.  I had the same feeling after the Independence Bowl, that we were playing with an incomplete team.  Parts are still missing in Coach Kill's second year as the head man.

Read on as we breakdown the Offense, Defense, Special Teams and Coaching of the 2010 International Bowl against South Florida.

The Offense

Is all the initial criticism of QB Chandler Harnish justified?

At the beginning of the 2nd quarter, the offense gets all sorts of opportunities to score a touchdown.  On 3rd down, Harnish launches an uncatchable ball way outside the top-right corner of the endzone.  WR Marcus Lewis was getting held on the play and it would have been pass interference if the ball was thrown somewhere close.  Needs some more touch on those fade routes.  Settling for a FG when you could get the 7 points is not the way you want to start out a bowl game.

Later in the quarter, Harnish underthrows the ball to Nathan Palmer.  I admit the defender made a nice play on the ball, but NaPalm doesn't get wider than he was streaking down the right sideline.  A near interception.  Just a couple plays later, Harnish tries to go deep, but Martel Moore stops short.  Need better communication between both parties.

Harnish was very hesitant to run more than one time in this game.  His knee probably still wasn't 100% for the bowl game, which limited our offense.  Right before the half, in a mess of a 3rd and 10, Marcus Lewis runs a route 7 yds short of the marker and Harnish overthrows him anyways.

In the 2nd half, Harnish has another miscommunication, this time with TE Jack Marks and overthrows him as well.  There was another ball to NaPalm that almost got picked off and an underthrow to Landon Cox.  As the 3rd quarter winds down, he overthrows Martel Moore again, this time for an interception.  The kicker was that it was our last chance in the 4th and Harnish drops the snap as it is recovered by USF.  A fitting end to this game.  In all this chaos, DeMarcus Grady entered the game, but didn't do anything notable.

Did the offensive line give him enough time to throw?

Yes, for the most part.  There was only one or two plays that I saw that USF really had any pressure on Harnish and they weren't any of the plays I listed above.  Aside from the two or so QB hurries, he was sacked twice, even though the statsheet says only once.

So, what was the problem then?

Well, as stated above, Harnish couldn't make the throws to win this game.  USF was keying in on the run and we couldn't get that established either.

The right side of the offensive line was atrocious in this game.  It was a combination of having 3rd string RT Panan Tense making only his 2nd start of his entire career and the fact that USF had NFL Defensive Ends on each side of the ball.  The fact that Kevin Skatrud went down in the preseason with an ACL and Adam Kiel went down with a bad foot injury in the Ohio game put the spotlight on an unproven player.  I'm holding off my judgement on RG Joe Pawlak, as he was the starter all year, but this was probably his worst game of the year.

Here's some of my notes I took while watching the OL:

Pawlak couldn't block his guy on a QB sweep...Pawlak couldn't block Jason Pierre-Paul and Harnish gets sacked... RT Panan Tense can't open a hole for Chad Spann... Not enough push on the right side on a 3rd and short... Why are we running draws to the right side of our OL?... Tense needs to block better on QB draws... More poor blocking by Tense as Spann gets stuffed in the backfield.  Pierre-Paul is owning us... Tense with the chop-block penalty... Tense completely whiffs on a Harnish rollout to the left, defender deflects ball... Pawlak again cannot hold his freaking blocks, needs to give Harnish more time to throw.

Our offensive line has to go through some MAJOR rebuilding throughout this offseason if we want to be successful next year.  What has been a staple throughout the early part of the past decade has suddenly become a weakness.  After watching what former Huskie OT Doug Free did for Dallas on Sunday, I shed a tear.  Where has the dominant Northern Illinois Offensive Line gone?  Tight end too.

Skill positions?

You have to give it up to Chad Spann.  He finished with 20 carries for 93 yds despite the fact that USF was keying in on the run the entire game.  That whole fumble-while-switching-hands and then recovering the ball again after the defender tried to return it was ridiculous and unnecessary.  Justin Anderson got 2 compilation carries to end his tragic career as a Huskie.

WR Landon Cox limped off the field, and I'm sure that limited the offense a bit, even though he made a return to the game in the 2nd half.  Martel Moore had an amazing catch towards the end of the 1st quarter, where he really attacked the ball.  With offseason conditioning, Moore is going to be fantastic next year as a sophomore.  He, Perez Ashford and NaPalm need to work their asses off in route running and becoming more in tune with the quarterback.

Marcus Lewis finished up a solid senior campaign with 4 catches for 38 yds.

The Defense

Can't say enough about these guys.  They kept USF to 6 points until 5:20 left in the 3rd quarter.

B.J. Daniels was sacked 6 times by 6 different players: DE Sean Progar, LB Cory Hanson, LB Tyrone Clark, LB Jordan Delegal, Brandon Bice & Jake Coffman.  Tyrone Clark's was for a ridiculous 20 yard loss!  I definitely remember Bice destroying BJD, but the statsheet says doesn't list it.  Coffman's sack could have been his last tackle ever as a Huskie.  Both Coffman and Bice did a great job all day forcing BJD out of the pocket and allowing other players to get the sack.

We shut USF's run game completely for most of the game.  But as the offense left the defense out to dry, the Bulls unleashed Mike Ford on the world and the power back took charge.

I was disappointed in the play of seniors LB Cory Hanson and FS David Bryant.  Hanson should have made an interception in the 2nd quarter that would have really built some momentum up for the Huskies.  Bryant just got ran over by Mike Ford all day.  First LeFevour's embarrassing stiff arm, now this, he's got to have some thick skin.

Tyrone Clark had a great game filling in for Alex Kube, but really needs to work on his technique and discipline.  Same goes for LB Devon Butler & DE Alan Baxter, as BJD & Mike Ford were owning them all day long.  On one play, Daniels somehow escaped from 6 or 7 tackles and ran for the 1st down.  I couldn't believe the play with my own two eyes, as I was sure he was down in the backfield.  He's going to be a great athletic QB in the next couple years.

Late in the 3rd, USF's RT went offsides before the snap, but no whistle was called as the players were distracted.  The play went on and B.J. Daniels chucked it up and somehow a USF receiver came down with it to put the Bulls up 13-3.

I don't know what Chris Smith's deal is.  He needs to finish his tackles and work his pass coverage.  Everybody got tired on that side of the ball throughout the course of the game and even SS Tracy Wilson looked human.

Special Teams

Tommy Davis did a great job returning kickoffs, as usual returning 5 for 126 yds.  Josh Wilber boomed a couple balls and tried to get the ball away from USF's returners at first.  Later, Salerno came on with the rugby punt.  I didn't think the Bulls returners were all that great, so this might not have been necessary.  K Mike Salerno made a 21-yarder, but missed a 52-yarder.  Great job on kick coverage all around.

Coaching

On the first drive of the game, we decide to go for it on 4th down.  What do we do?  The same damn fake punt we did against Purdue.  Anything would have been better than that: A run up the middle...maybe a pass...or how about we just punt the dang ball.

Would have liked to seen more play action and screens earlier in the game, rather than the same predictable run plays that we like to do.

Right after the 3rd quarter ends, Coach Kill calls a timeout?  Was the quarter break not enough time for you?  Anyways, USF throws a TD pass to go up 20-3 on the next play.  OOPS

On 3rd down, we did that Nathan Palmer end-around.  Haven't seen that play before...

When DeMarcus Grady came in at QB, one play was a wildcat in which Spann was at the QB position and would have thrown the ball to Grady had he not fumbled the snap.  Maybe they should have stuck somebody back there that had played QB in high school...I don't know, maybe JUSTIN ANDERSON.

Later this week we'll take a look at the seniors leaving and what we need to focus on improving this offseason.  Hint: OFFENSE

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