Without running game, Northern Illinois coach Thomas Hammock says Huskies couldn’t find rhythm

Nebraska's Carlos Davis sacks Northern Illinois' Ross Bowers in the third quarter.

LINCOLN — It was easy for Northern Illinois coach Thomas Hammock to identify what kept the Huskies’ offense from scoring any touchdowns Saturday night against a suddenly stout Nebraska defense.

“We’ve got to be able to run the ball,” Hammock said. “If you’re in third-and-seven situations, your percentages go way down. We have to be more efficient on first down, and that all starts with running the football. That’s what it comes down to. You have to create movement.”

The 1-2 Huskies couldn’t create much movement against the Huskers’ bigger, stronger defensive front. Northern Illinois netted just 74 yards on 32 carries as Nebraska rolled to a 44-8 victory.

Hammock was especially impressed with Nebraska’s defensive line and linebackers, and how that front seven gummed up lanes the Huskies were trying to create.

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“They have big linemen, they have big linebackers, and that guy inside, the guy who came from Oklahoma State (Darrion Daniels), he’s tough to move,” Hammock said. “Their linebackers play downhill, and we knew that going into it. So we tried to create some angles to give ourselves a chance to run the football.”

Finding those lanes closed to traffic, the Huskies leaned on their passing game to move the ball. Starting quarterback Ross Bowers completed 25 of 44 passes for 248 yards, but the longest completion went for just 28 yards.

At least four times a Northern Illinois receiver got behind the Nebraska secondary for a shot at long gains that could have changed the tenor of the game. All four of those passes went a few yards past their intended targets, but Hammock said not all the blame goes on Bowers’ tab.

“We just couldn’t get a rhythm,” Hammock said. “They did a good job of knocking some balls down. We had some guys open. We had three or four shots where our wide receiver was behind the defense and we don’t convert.

“There were two to Dennis (Robinson) where he’s completely behind the DB. You’ve got to continue to run to the ball. We just have to make sure we get our chemistry and rhythm on the deep balls. That changes the game.”

Bowers said he can do a better job of connecting with his receivers and vowed to work on that through the Huskies’ upcoming bye week.

“I missed a few throws that I wish I could have back,” Bowers said. “But when I get to the film, I’ll remember more plays. We have to reinvent ourselves, get healthy this next week, then come back ready to go and put up some points and help our defense out.”

Nebraska’s offense had four of what Hammock called “big bang” plays that resulted in touchdowns. Three of those were between 21 and 27 yards, and the fourth was a 60-yard run around the edge of the Northern Illinois defense by running back Maurice Washington.

“We wanted to give ourselves a chance, we didn’t do that early,” Hammock said. “Credit to Nebraska, they made some big, explosive plays which we knew was a possibility. We wanted to do some things to try to minimize some of those plays.”

Northern Illinois tried a few unconventional plays to help the defense, including a pair of quick kicks by Bowers from an offensive set that averaged 44.5 yards per boot. That was an area that Hammock said the Huskies worked on and he was pleased how things turned out.

“We had two quick kicks by the quarterback which I thought were executed extremely well,” Hammock said. “We get them down at the 1-yard line, and then down there inside the 10. We give ourselves a chance to play defense.”

Following the bye week the Huskies will travel to Nashville for a Sept. 28 game against Vanderbilt.

“I think the bye week comes at a perfect time,” Bowers said. “Both to prepare for Vandy and also to get our bodies right. Take these couple of days to get better in practice and take a few days rest.

“This was a frustrating loss, but I’m looking at this (like it) could be the turning point for our offense. I hope I can help turn that in the right direction.”

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