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A 31-45 loss to the deserving West Champs leaves the Huskies wanting more

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I'd just like to say that I hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving weekend.  It was pretty exhausting for myself, but it was a great time and got to see some relatives on the west coast I had not seen in a while.  Although I did miss the game on Friday as I was busy traveling, I watched the replay on ESPN360.com.  I had seen some negative comments on the message board, but overall I thought it was a hard-fought game against the best team in the conference on a short week on the road.

Hats off to QB Dan LeFevour, RB Bryan Schroeder and the rest of the Chippewas.  The best QB in the MAC was absolutely unstoppable and is reaching the apex of his season.  He could do nothing wrong passing for 255 yds and 3 TDs.  The Chips ran right at the Huskies, as Schroeder powered through for 128 yds and 2 TDs on only 9 carries and caught 4 passes for 41 yds and a TD.  LeFevour is a sure-fire NFL prospect and proved it today.  His pocket awareness is untouchable and was a pro at running the same offense he has been running for 4 years now.

The Huskies did what they could on offense and defense, but silly mistakes put the Huskies down too much early as they tried to make a furious comeback at the end of the game.  The stat of the game was 3rd down conversions.  NIU was 4 of 12 (33%) whereas CMU was 12 of 18 (67%).

The ball didn't bounce the right way for the Huskies on Friday, but they put up a tremendous effort.  It must have been tough facing both the East (Ohio) and West Champs in consecutive weeks.  For a team that was predicted to finish in the bottom half of the West, I was impressed.

Here's a positional breakdown of what I saw against the Chips in Mt. Pleasant:

Quarterback

It's clear that Chandler Harnish was not in a groove the entire game.  First of all, you could clearly tell that his knee hasn't healed completely.  He didn't look confident in the pocket and didn't have full speed on his runs.  Another thing that messed up the offensive rhythm is the times that DeMarcus Grady filled in at QB.  It was so painstakingly obvious that he was going to run the ball.  We could have been more creative putting either one of the QBs in motion and sending them out wide or in the slot.  Just keep Harnish behind center, especially early in the game when you're trying to get your footing.

Chandler had trouble handling snaps from Adamski at a couple different parts of the game.  Sometimes, Harnish just held on to the ball too long.  This could be accredited to Harnish himself, the offensive line protection or the wide receivers not getting open.  He threw two interceptions late, which again could have just been miscommunications or bad throws.  Looked like he was just trying to force it too much and needs to work on feeling out the blitz.

Running Back

This game reminded me of how much I love it when Chad Spann runs the ball.  He started the game because Me'co Brown was out with an ankle injury.  Are we seriously going to have to kidnap Me'co Brown to get Spann more carries next season?  We should nickname him Mr. September, because the smaller back seems to breakdown come the latter part of the season.

Even though Spann looked awesome running the ball, you could clearly tell that his shoulder was not 100%.  He had a critical fumble and then a dropped pass late in the game.  A healthy Spann doesn't make those mistakes.  More awesomeness from the postgame notes:

***Chad Spann scored his 19th rushing touchdown of the season (and 20th overall) to tie the Northern Illinois single season record for rushing scores. Spann tied the record owned by Stacey Robinson (1989 and 1990) and Michael Turner (2002). He also moved up to tie Turner for second on the Huskies' list for single season touchdowns with 20, trailing only Garrett Wolfe's 21 in 2004. Spann's 120 points on the year are also tied for second in a single season.

Wide Receivers

As a whole, way, way too many drops.  I'm including the TEs and RBs in the passing game.  Outcome would have been a lot different had they been able to catch everything thrown to them.

Martel Moore is an absolute beast.  He made 3 highlight reel catches for 61 yds and almost a 4th that got knocked down.  AND HE'S ONLY A TRUE FRESHMAN!  He will be a future MAC star.

Landon Cox looked worn out in this game.  Maybe being the only reliable WR all season finally caught up to him.  He caught a TD pass early, but later on the game he had a couple drops and left the field with an injury.

Marcus Lewis was all over the place in his last regular-season game as a Huskie.  He starts off the game as the go-to guy, catching 3 passes.  The end of the 1st, he goes all alligator arms and doesn't catch the pass in his vicinity.  Then comes the offensive pass interference. In the 4th quarter he had a SICK crack-back block on a Harnish scramble for a first.  And in the final offensive drive for the Huskies, he scores the touchdown.  Crazy, crazy game for the 4th year senior.

Offensive Line

It took all season, but the lack of depth really started to show as Panan Tense made his first start of his career for Adam Kiel at RT.  There was just way too much pressure on Harnish the entire game.  OL has to be a major focus this offseason to improve through recruiting.  Joe Pawlak is a little trigger happy.

Defensive Line

Nobody could really get any pressure on Dan LeFevour, but who really can?  Got cut up in the rushing game giving up 6.3 ypc to the Chippewa rushers.  CMU just ran it up the middle with Schroeder.  Same with the O-Line, the depth on this side of the ball has been severely depleted especially with Brian Lawson's late season hand injury.  Jake Coffman had 6 tackles and Bice finished with 3 tackles and a sack.

Linebackers

Just a whole lot of meh.  The starters looked like their feet were in ice blocks.  A lot of overpursuing, which gave CMU the chance to execute screen passes.  The only bright spot I saw was Tyrone Clark making a couple of big hits.  He also was the player that tipped the ball up so that Patrick George could return the ball for a TD late in the game.  The true freshman has been making great plays all season long.  Both Schiller & Hanson had 9 tackles a piece and #53 was accredited with the forced fumble.

Defensive Backs

Senior David Bryant started at FS in his last regular-season game, but the rust from being sidelined most of the season was very evident.  Dan LeFevour's stiff arm of him was highlight reel stuff.  He did, however recover the fumble late in the game.  SS Tracy Wilson racked up his 10 tackles a game average in this one.

CB Chris Smith IS A MAN.  He played out of his goddamn mind in this game.  Just awesome, hard tackles the entire game long.  He's the best tackling CB we've had in a long, long time.  Not bad for a JUCO transfer in his first year.

One thing I didn't get was all the soft coverage by the CBs on 3rd downs.  It was just ridiculous.  A player only has to go so far to get a 1st down and you're backed up even further than that.  Yes, Kiaree Daniels I'm looking at you.  12 of 18 on 3rd downs is just ridiculous.  Tommy Davis had some trouble in the tackling department as a backup.  PG didn't have a stellar game either, but did return that INT for a touchdown late.

Special Teams

F*CK RUGBY PUNTS

This is not a personnel problem, this is a coaching problem.  Sure, the Mike Salerno's 9 yard punt was into the wind but seriously... Josh Wilber and his monster leg hasn't played since Akron.  Talk about under-utilized.

Coaching

These Huskies never gave up, right until the bitter end.  Talk about getting this team up to play when they're down 10-38.  There was a distinct difference in terms of talent and personnel between both teams, but I felt that the coaches did a decent job of switching things up.  An offseason favor: No more 9 yard punts.

So what's next?

We wait, and then we wait some more. The MAC Championship is this Friday and bowl invitations will be sent soon after that.  Navy doesn't take on Army until December 12th, so we may not know who our opponent will be in our potential bowl game until then.  So now the most important thing to do is heal the bumps and bruises, hit the recruiting trail and keep in game shape.  There's a bowl game on the horizon.