Football is a game of three phases: Offense Defense & Special Teams. Every category is important and can win (or lose) a game single-handedly. As Kill would liken the loss to a 'game of Inches', I would say that we lost the game by many, many yards given up on the special teams side of things. And through penalties.
(Not so) Special Teams
There's just something about our coverage teams that hasn't been right ever since the Phillip Livas fiasco in the Independence Bowl last year. Purdue exploited it earlier this year for a return for a touchdown.
Mike Salerno kicks the opening kickoff to Ohio's 1 yd line and Chris Garrett returns the ball 69 yds to NIU's 35 yd line. Some would blame the defense for giving up a TD on the first offensive drive of the game. If the Huskies were to maintain coverage on the kickoff, then the Bobcats would have still been on their own side of the field after going 35 yds. Instead, they got to the endzone.
The offense gets the ball and goes on a modest drive to mid-field. Salerno boots a rugby punt to the 9 yd line and guess who is there to return it? LaVon Brazill, arguably the fastest player in green and white and the guy that just scored a touchdown for Ohio. We should have either booted it really high or through the endzone, but the line drive was returned by Brazill 91 yds to put the Bobcats up 14-0. It was the longest punt return for a TD in Ohio history.
The "rugby punt" that Kill seems to like has been met harsh criticism by fans. The result is a quick, sometimes bouncing, line-drive punt towards the sidelines sometimes giving the returner too much time to think about where he's going to go. A standard high, booming punt is not going to give the returner enough time to return the ball before the coverage team gets there.
Flash forward to the start of the second half.
The offense stalls because of penalties, so we punt it off to Ohio. We manage to stop them on a 3rd down run, so they decide to punt. Jordan Delegal comes off the edge and not only is he offsides, he roughs the kicker trying to make a play. Ohio didn't do anything that drive, but it just put the defense on the field a few more plays than it should have. A critical mistake, especially when it's a 14-14 tie game.
The only bright spot of ST was when Tyrone Clark made a heads up tackle to force Brazill to fumble in the 3rd, so we only had to go 12 yds and go up 21-17 on a Spann TD.
After NIU takes their last lead of the game at 28-24, they kickoff and Ohio returns it to the 27-yd line. But wait, there's a flag on the field an it's Jordan Delegal AGAIN with a 15-yard personal foul. Ohio starts on the 42 and drives a short field against an exhausted defense to go ahead 31-28.
Look #29, I know you had a bunch of offers to SEC schools before you went the JUCO route to Northern, but come on man. If you want to start on the weak side after Cory Hanson graduates, you're going to have to play smarter than that.
Just looking at the stats, the defense did their fair share of work to win the game. They held Ohio to only 228 yds! Ohio only converted 4 of 13 on 3rd downs, now that is impressive.
I'll give them the benefit of the doubt giving up the first TD to Brazill. Ohio only had to go 35 yds. Then look what they accomplished after that:
|02:38||2||01:17||OHIO 8||3||13||End of Half|
|08:51||3||02:49||NIU 38||6||27||Field Goal Good|
The only reason that FG happened was because Harnish turned the ball over on a fluke fumble. The camera angle was awkward on that play, but it looked like the QB just dropped the ball.
Imagine the defensive psyche at this point: "Oh great, first that running in to the kicker penalty, now this?" They needed a breather at this point in the game, but the offense couldn't provide that.
The next time the D is out there Ohio then drives and scores a TD pass to LaVon Brazill (how is he not double covered at this point?). 24-21 Bobcats.
After the Delegal kickoff penalty, an exhausted defense is backed into a short field situation again, and Ohio drives to go up 31-28.
The next series, the NIU makes Ohio punt AGAIN giving the Huskie offense another chance at rallying back from a 3 pt deficit. This was clearly a game where the defense did NOT lose the game for the Huskies. They played to their abilities, but were over their heads from the get-go with special teams giving up all that yardage and the fumble on offense.
DE/DT Jake Coffman was one of the few bright spots on D, gathering 2 sacks, 3 TFL and a MAC player of the week award. It's also weird that CB Chris Smith had 9 tackles and that Patrick George only had 1. Make your own assumptions about that.
410 yds of total offense, 20 first downs and 31 pts. That should be enough to win you a football game, so kudos to the offense.
Harnish had a huge day going 24 of 35 for 307 yds and 2 TDs. However, trying to break the tie in the 2nd drive of the 3rd quarter, the ball simply fell out of his hands and was recovered by Ohio. I didn't see exactly what happened, but this is a circumstance of not having played full-time these past few weeks.
Coming out of the halftime was just awkward, because even on the first drive there was a false start by Martel Moore then a delay of game. That puts the offense at a pretty impossible 3 and 17.
He fared well, considering how much pressure Ohio was putting on him every single play. RT Adam Kiel got hurt early and then it seemed like after that they released the
horses bobcats after that. Kiel will have surgery on his foot and will miss the Central Michigan game. Some of his passes were just a bit off though, which always seems to happen with him at QB.
On a second attempt to try to even the 3 pt deficit (after the failed 4th down), Ohio brought the house and got Harnish for an 11 yd sack. However, #12 tried to throw the ball and it didn't make it past the line of scrimmage for intentional grounding. The play after that was just a chuck deep to see if anybody would catch it and a Bobcat player did and returned it to the house.
Landon Cox had the best game of his young career catching 11 passes for 132 yds. Marcus Lewis continued his senior tour with 4 catches for 64 yds and a TD. The amazing jumping fullback Kyle Skarb a couple of his patented sideline catches and managed to score the opening TD for the Huskies.
I could go on and on about the running back situation, but I won't. Me'co Brown (ankle) and Chad Spann (shoulder) were pretty banged up, so wouldn't it make sense to give the ball to Justin Anderson? Not even in short-yardage situations? He looked great against Eastern Michigan...I just can't seem to muster up any rationale for this insanity.
Another thing that bothered me was the silly implementation of Garrett Barnas on the offensive side of the ball. I believe they could have used him a lot more on the defensive side of the ball, especially in this game. Just like NIU1981 says,
if you're going to have Barnas run and throw why not use, I don't know, DeMarcus Grady?? You know, our most explosive offensive player?
It was just so blatantly obvious that he was only doing these plays on offense to set up a pass later in the game. Every NIU fan watching the game knew it, so I bet the Ohio sideline knew it as well. Then the pass did go up and the whole play was a disaster.
Overall, I was somewhat impressed with the ingenuity on offense. There were some different formations in there with a bunch of different personnel in the backfield.
If you look at the whole scheme of things, championship teams don't make these mistakes. I am happy at this point just to be playing in the post-season for a bowl championship. Maybe. First things first as we have to make things Mt. Un-Pleasant for the Chippwas on Friday.