Aug. 18, 2012
DeKALB, Ill. - Two weeks before kicking off the 2012 season at Soldier Field versus Iowa, Northern Illinois held a 90-minute scrimmage in full pads Saturday at Huskie Stadium under perfect weather conditions. With NIU's top two receivers - Martel Moore and Perez Ashford - given the day off, the Huskie defense got the better of the offense most of the day during the run-oriented workout.
Northern Illinois Head Coach Dave Doeren said the fact that NIU defense has the upper hand at this point is not surprising, given that the Huskies return experienced players at every position on defense and the offense did not have a single returning starter from 2011 on the field Saturday.
"The defense is more experienced; they are obviously ahead [of the offense] and I would be more worried if they weren't," Doeren said. "The defense did what they were supposed to do. They tackled well, they played physical, they got penetration; I was happy to see them come out the way they did."
Doeren said that the film from Saturday's practice will be extremely valuable moving forward, especially for the Huskie offense.
"This will be valuable film for us. We are two weeks from kickoff and it will tell us a lot about where we have to get better," said the second-year head coach. "Defensively, we have installed what we need to install and now we need to get better at what we have. Offensively, the film will be telling and we'll have a much clearer idea of what we've got."
The Huskie offense was unable to generate a first down in the first several series as the scrimmage opened with the Huskies pinned back on their own one-yard line. The defense recorded a safety and the offense committed several offsides penalties in the early part of the scrimmage. Defensive backs Rashaan Melvin and Jhony Faustin both broke up passes in the early-going.
"I didn't think the offense was ready early," Doeren said. "They had some offsides, gave up a safety. Offensively, they were at a disadvantage without Perez and Martel. I wanted it to be a day to look at the run game and we purposely held out Perez and Martel, who both have had great camps, for that reason. I wanted to see us respond in the run game."
The offense finally broke through for a score when the Huskie freshmen faced off beginning at the 35-yard line. On the first play, rookie tailback Keith Harris Jr. burst into the open and scored on a 65-yard run for the first score of the day. That burst earned Harris several carries with the first and second team units later in the scrimmage, and the true freshman from Chicago responded in those situations as well with touchdown runs from the nine and from the one-yard line.
"It was exciting to see Keith Harris break out on a couple of runs," Doeren said. "I had no idea that would happen today. He took advantage of an opportunity. I wasn't happy with what I was seeing from the tailbacks, so we put him in there and he responded. He hasn't had a lot of carries; we'll have to see what happens going forward."
Northern Illinois ran several series from the 35 with the number two offense at one point advancing to the 15-yard line before the defense stepped up and held for a 32-yard field goal. When the ball was moved to the 20-yard line for the "red zone" portion of the scrimmage, Harris scored with the number one offense , the second offense saw Wedel kick a 35-yard field goal, and Dominique Ware scooped up and Akeem Daniels fumble and scored.
In the goal line drills, Jamal Womble ran over a defensive back on the first play before the defense got two consecutive stops.
Defensive backs Anthony Brooks and Nate McNeal recorded interceptions in the freshmen versus freshmen series of the scrimmage.
NIU will hold a walk-through at Soldier Field on Sunday in advance of the season opener versus Iowa at the Chicago stadium on Saturday, Sept. 1 at 2:30 p.m. (CT).
Northern Illinois takes the nation's longest Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) winning streak into the 2012 season-opener after winning its final nine games of the 2012 season, including the Mid-American Conference Championship and the GoDaddy.com Bowl. NIU is the winningest FBS program in the state of Illinois, and in the Mid-American Conference, since 2002.
Tickets to Soldier Field Showdown III, including the Score Four Pack, are now on sale through Ticketmaster by calling 1-800-745-3000, or online at www.Ticketmaster.com. The Score Four Pack includes four tickets in the upper corners of the stadium for only $120.
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