Huskies have questions; need answers
While injuries have dictated considerable quarterback shuffling over the past couple campaigns, this year’s Huskie version may utilize multiple quarterbacks even if there are no injuries at the position. Entering fall camp, there just was no clear cut answer.
2016 MAC record: 5-3 (3rd MAC West)
2017 MAC Media prediction: 3rd MAC West
● Anthony Maddie was denied a sixth year of eligibility, leaving NIU with two Chicago-area players as top candidates to take the helm at quarterback in 2017.
-- Ryan Graham completed 71 of 127 aerials (55.9%) of his passes, good for 680 yards and eight TDs. He owned six interceptions while appearing in parts of seven contests.
-- Sophomore Daniel Santacaterina appeared in two games last year, completing 18 of 38 passes (47.4%) for 361 yards (74 on one play), 1 TD and 2 interceptions.
● Northern Illinois ranked 10th among MAC teams in passing offense (224.0 ypg). However, the Huskies were No. 1 in rushing offense 239.8 ypg.
● Workhorse Joel Bouagnon is gone after contributing 895 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016. So is Maddie, who legged out 558 yards with seven scores.
Jordan Huff (5-11, 224, Sr) is the top returning rusher. He logged 111 carries for 703 yards (6.3 ypc) and tallied five TDs.
● If Northern is going to improve the passing game, it won’t be just about a quarterback. The Huskies must also get some production out of a receiving group that now lacks the explosive play of Kenny Golladay. Chad Beebe and D.J. Brown are 5-9 threats who could be tough to corral. Senior WR Christian Blake and senior tight end Shane Wimann combined for 58 receptions, 711 yards and eight TDs in 2016.
● Three starters return on an offensive line that tied with Troy for allowing the lowest amount of sacks nationally.
● Questions on offense make it even more important that the defense raise its game. The Huskies yielded 30.3 ppg. And 451.5 ypg in 2016 – both ninth among MAC teams.
● NIU was in the bottom quarter of the league in both rushing and pass defense, although the Huskies were fifth in pass defense efficiency.
● Northern’s secondary should be a strength, with returning starters at nearly every position. Senior Shawun Lurry garnered Second Team All-MAC honors.
● Bobby Jones IV is the only returning starter at linebacker. He finished fourth among Huskie defenders with 41 tackles. There is enough experienced talent joining him to make the defense’s second level a relatively effective unit.
● Senior DT William Lee and junior DE Josh Corcoran anchor the front line.
● NIU’s red zone defense led the MAC, yielding scores on 75.5 percent of opportunities.
● An under-the-radar loss on special teams is all-conference kick returner Aregeros Turner.
● PK Christian Hagan is back for his senior season. He split the uprights for 11 of 18 field goal attempts with a long of 41 last year.
● Senior Josh Orne figures in the punting gamee, although his game experience has been with kickoffs.
The sub-.500 record in 2016 broke NIU’s eight-game run of bowl appearances and the last Huskies bowl win was back in 2011.
Injuries have hit the Huskies hard in the last couple years, especially at quarterback. What was once their ultimate strength has recently become an Achilles heel.
Toledo is an overwhelming favorite in the MAC West and several other programs in that division are on the rise.
Northern Illinois has a myriad of questions on both sides of the ball. How the Huskies answer those questions will determine their fate.