The NIU Huskie offense, which was truly prolific earlier in this decade, has fallen on hard times of late. The last two seasons have been painful to watch from an offensive standpoint. Actually the 2007 season was painful to watch period, but hopefully a season like that won't come around again any time soon.
What was the cause of the offensive decline in recent years? Defensive trends? Improvement of the MAC? Bad luck? Those may have had something to do with it but the main culprit is recruiting, the dreaded R-word that has such a huge bearing on success at the D-1 level. Specifically, recruiting of the skill positions (Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver) where the Huskies came up short far too often in recent years. An examination of recent Huskie recruiting classes demonstrates the lack of success in recruiting effective skill position players. You need to add effective players every year in order to sustain success and the Huskie coaching staff was unable to do so.
Here's the offensive production year by year with major contributors in parentheses:
Rushing - 2,409 yards, 24 TDs (Michael Turner)
Passing - 2,105 yards, 16 TDs, 7 INTs (Josh Haldi)
Total - 4,514 yards, 40 TDs
Rushing - 1,920 yards, 20 TDs (Michael Turner)
Passing - 2,627 yards, 25 TDs, 10 INTs (Josh Haldi)
Total - 4,547 yards, 45 TDs
Rushing - 2,858 yards, 28 TDs (Garrett Wolfe, AJ Harris)
Passing - 2,407 yards, 22 TDs, 11 INTs (Josh Haldi, Phil Horvath)
Total - 5,265 yards, 50 TDs
Rushing - 2,480 yards, 28 TDs (Garrett Wolfe, Adrian Davis)
Passing - 2,849 yards, 24 TDs, 10 INTs (Phil Horvath, Dan Nicholson)
Total - 5,329 yards, 52 TDs
Rushing - 2,142 yards, 20 TDs ( Garrett Wolfe)
Passing - 2,580 yards, 16 TDs, 15 INTs (Phil Horvath, Dan Nicholson)
Total - 4,722 yards, 36 TDs
Rushing - 1,626 yards, 11 TDs (Justin Anderson)
Passing - 2,429 yards, 14 TDs, 19 INTs (Dan Nicholson, Ryan Morris)
Total - 4,055 yards, 25 TDs
Passing - 2,130 yards, 13 TDs, 12 INTs (Chandler Harnish, Dan Nicholson)
Total - 4,356 yards, 35 TDs
In summary there were some monster years followed by a dramatic drop-off (52 TDs to 25; 5,329 yards to 4,055!), followed by an upswing in 2008, at least from a total yardage and TD standpoint. Passing yardage and TDs have declined for three straight years at this point but there's hope for improvement since we won't have a freshman at QB this year.
Let's go year by year with the skill position recruits and see if we can correlate those results:
Quarterback - Phil Horvath
Running Backs - Garrett Wolfe, AJ Harris, Adrian Davis
Wide Receivers - Sam Hurd, Shatone Powers, Jarrett Carter, Travis House
Comments: Holy smokes, what a good class! This class was clearly not the problem. Following on the heels of the Josh Haldi/Michael Turner/PJ Fleck/Dan Sheldon regime these guys put up huge numbers for several years. Phil Horvath contributed for three seasons including his Junior year which was one of the best seasons ever by a Huskie quarterback before being injured late in the season. Garrett Wolfe and AJ Harris were horses and Adrian Davis did some nice things on the few occasions he was able to get on the field, including a 200+ yard effort against Kent State when Garrett Wolfe was injured in 2005. Sam Hurd had the monster Senior year that got him into the NFL and Shatone Powers and Jarrett Carter were good possession receivers and fantastic blockers in support of the running game.
Quarterback - Zach Ullrich, Andre Brown, Shedrick Mossman
Running Back - Cas Prime, Greg Owens
Wide Receiver - Dan Passarelli
Comments: This group was a complete bust. None of the quarterbacks made it onto the field except for minor mop-up duty, Cas Prime suffered terrible luck with injuries, Greg Owens didn't qualify and Dan Passarelli never made it onto the field. 2003 was a complete swing and a miss with the skill guys.
Quarterback - Dan Nicholson, Britt Davis, Chris Carr
Running Back - Montell Clanton, TJ Griffin
Comments: This group was a mixed bag. They looked great on paper but had their ups and downs on the field. Dan Nicholson did well as a freshman but suffered from injuries and inconsistency for the rest of his career. Chris Carr left and Britt Davis moved to wide receiver, more on him in a minute. Montell Clanton showed great promise at running back but suffered two bad knee injuries and was ultimately passed up, while TJ Griffin moved to linebacker where he had a nice Senior year in a backup role. At wide receiver Britt Davis set Freshman and Sophomore receiving records and then regressed as a Junior and Senior when he seemed to lose confidence. His raw physical talents allowed him to catch on with the New York Jets as a free agent and let's hope he makes the team this fall. Marcus Perez showed early promise then suffered several injuries before finishing with a real nice Senior season in 2008. Matt Simon had a great 2007 and was slowed by injury in 2008, although he was still able to catch on with the New Orleans Saints as a free agent. All of these guys had their moments, just not at the same time. Evans Adonis was caught in the numbers game and rarely saw the field. To sum up this group: great production, sometimes.
Quarterback - Ryan Morris, Derek Watson
Running Back - Justin Anderson
Comments: Another weak class overall. The quarterbacks were walk-ons as the Huskies did not recruit a QB that year. Derek Watson left after one season. Ryan Morris ended up starting a few games in 2007 and did a nice job in relief with an extremely pared-down playbook. He has hardly seen the field since and is not projected to do so in 2009. Justin Anderson had the excellent 2007 season both running and receiving but has fallen out of favor with the new coaching staff. Greg Turner was a grayshirt from 2004 who had a decent but unremarkable career as a possession receiver and punt returner. Orlando Moore and Justin Williams left and Preston Williams has barely seen the field.
Quarterback - Billy Lowe
Running Back - Ricky Crider
Comments: Another weak class overall, although Crider and the receivers still have a chance to do something about it. Billy Lowe left after his redshirt season. Ricky Crider has shown great improvement and toughness in coming back from his terrible broken leg at Wisconsin in 2007. He has shown home run ability as both a running back and kick returner and had a great spring this year. Let's hope he continues that trajectory in the 2009 season. Marcus Lewis has been a forgotten man after seeing the field as a true freshman in 2006. He's been stuck behind a big group of receivers and in my opinion should have redshirted last year since he's now a Senior who won't turn 21 until this November. Regardless, he had a good spring and has a chance to contribute this fall. Tyler Clasey is a possession receiver who's played quite a bit on special teams but hasn't been mentioned in the receiver mix yet.
Quarterback - Chandler Harnish, DeMarcus Grady
Running Back - Chad Spann, Alan Smith
Comments: It's still early but this group looks real good overall. Chandler Harnish is the starter at QB and has all the qualities you look for with the spread offense. DeMarcus Grady is an able backup who is so talented with the ball in his hands we're all hoping he gets on the field as a slot receiver this fall. Chad Spann rocketed into the lineup after walking on in 2007 and has shown great toughness, durability and a nose for the end zone. He will be in the rotation in 2009. Alan Smith has not yet had a chance to get on the field due to the number of good backs in front of him. Cox, Palmer and Clark are the top three receivers coming into the 2009 season and all have played quite a bit up to this point. This group has a chance to do some real damage in the next few seasons. Finally!
Quarterback - Brandon Rogers
Running Back - Meco Brown
Wide Receiver - Chase Mejia, Ron Walker, Matt Ng
Comments: This group has already suffered some attrition as Rogers and Mejia have left the program. Mejia spent one season at 1-AA Missouri State and then moved on to Kansas State where it will be interesting to see how he does. There's no question he has talent as a receiver and returner. It's a pity it didn't work out here but that was his fault. Meco Brown was the second leading rusher as a true freshman last season and has improved with an offseason under his belt. He will be in the rotation this fall. Ron Walker and walk-on Matt Ng have not yet seen the field. Not that impressive a class overall but the Kill coaching staff had little time to put it together.
Quarterback - AJ Hill, Jordan Lynch, Tommy Coughlin
Running Back - Antoine Kirkland, Cameron Bell, Furqan Muhammad
Wide Receiver - Daniel Rodriguez, Perez Ashford, Martel Moore, Anthony Johnson, Riley O'Toole
Comments: How do we do it? Volume! We don't know much about these guys yet beyond their highlight videos but it's nice to see the Huskies finally stocking up on skill position players.
Final Analysis: After an uncharacteristic rough patch it looks like the Huskies' offensive fortunes have turned for the better on the field and in the recruiting wars. Tougher to quantify has been the corresponding dropoff in quality in the offensive line from earlier in the decade. Fortunately that seems to be on the upswing too with Eddie Adamski and Jason Onyebuagu being touted for all-MAC honors and Trevor Olson an exciting young talent at left tackle. We should look forward to some great offensive production in the years to come.