Northern Illinois Football Can’t Close the Deal Versus Boston College

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It was billed, by Northern Illinois football coach Rod Carey, as the biggest NIU home game in 14 years. He had been saying it all preseason, and he was certainly right in doing so. It’s what makes the result, a 23-20 loss to Boston College, so disappointing. The game Carey referenced was in 2003, the last time Northern Illinois football hosted an ACC opponent prior to this evening. 

They beat #15 Maryland that day, and could have easily grabbed another ACC win tonight had they just converted a couple more third downs. The stat that tells the story in this Northern Illinois football game is third down conversions, as they were just 2/15.

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“I feel like we left a half dozen plays out on the field tonight,” Carey said postgame.

The Huskies out-rushed the Eagles by 16 yards and out-passed them by 12. However, Christian Hagan’s 32-yard field goal attempt in the final minute, which would have sent the game into overtime, never even got the proper elevation, nor the requisite end-over-end rotation, and it bounced off the goalpost.

Carey remains faithful in his placekicker: “I take Christian Hagan in that situation every time.”

Again he’s right as the loss was definitely not his fault. NIU had numerous chances in a game that was just as entertaining as it was maddening. On one hand, it was closely contested the whole way and came down to the final seconds. On the other hand, it was your typical season opener with penalties, unforced errors and minor injuries persistently occurring.

“They [Boston College] ran 92 plays, about 50 in the first half, so when we weren’t moving the ball offensively, our defense was kind of getting diced up,” Carey said. “Overall, I thought our defense played great. When we moved the ball on offense and gave our defense some time on the sideline, they were as good as can be.”

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There were numerous stoppages from gaffes that you just don’t see when teams are in proverbial “midseason form.” On top of all that you had the added stoppages in play forced by the television broadcast in order to elongate it.

That also detracted from the entertainment value of the game. The House that Bork Built was about 3/5 full at kickoff, with an announced attendance of 16,421 (Huskie Stadium capacity is approximately 24,000). A lot of them filed out at half time, despite it being a very close game, as they were likely trying not to get home too late. For some bizarre reason, this game kicked off at 8:32,pm CST and the extremely late kickoff was a discouragement. 

The very curious decision was made even odder by the fact that the power five opponent in this one is from the east coast. The Huskies are now 18-31 in season openers as an FBS program. Next they’ll take on FCS foe Eastern Illinois at home. The Huskies’ next ACC foe is certainly a tough task, as they’ll travel to Florida State, a team currently ranked #3, in September of 2018.

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Tonight, however you saw that there is a whole lot to like about this Northern Illinois football team.

Down 10 in the second half they came back to tie it. The Huskies out-gained a power five opponent who Vegas deemed a 3.5 point favorite. Ryan Graham ran for just shy of a hundred yards, while Chad Beebe came very close to having a c-note in the receiving yards department.

However, Graham and the receivers were just not on the same page at all tonight. His very unsightly completion percentage (15/38 for just 39% ) and QBR (41.3) convey just how much everyone in the passing game has a ton of work to do.

Sure, B.C. may be the best defense they will face this season, and that had a lot to do with it, but they have to get better on third passing, otherwise this season won’t go anywhere.

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Of course, the rest of the season, they likely won’t face a pass rush as fierce as this.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now and Minute Media. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, currently contributes regularly to WGN CLTV and Chicago Now.

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