Iowa plows over Northern Illinois at Soldier Field

Tim Cronin

So many little things went against Northern Illinois on Saturday, it was almost as if the big thing became obscured in the Huskies’ 16-3 nonconference loss to Iowa at Soldier Field.

The big thing: The Hawkeyes rolled up 250 rushing yards against a Huskies defense that featured only two senior starters. The Huskies had no answer for Albert Young and Damian Sims, the rotating tailbacks.

Huskies head coach Joe Novak noticed without looking at his side of the stat sheet: 21 rushes, 21 yards.

“We didn’t get the run going,” Novak said. “The biggest difference in the game is they did and we didn’t.”

Because of that, the “if” game Huskies fans among the sellout crowd of 61,500 spectators could have played didn’t wash.

Would it have helped, for instance, if the Huskies had more than 10 men on the field seconds before tight end Reed Cunningham was called for a false start on the Iowa 3? Perhaps, though there’s no guarantee quarterback Dan Nicholson, the junior who prepped at Brother Rice, wouldn’t have had a pass deflect off the hand of receiver Greg Turner into the hands of Iowa cornerback Charles Godfrey two plays later, ending the Huskies’ best chance to score a touchdown and pull within a field goal.

Would it have been better if Northern Illinois punter Andy Dittbenner hadn’t been hit so hard in the second quarter that he wobbled off to the Iowa bench? Maybe, though placekicker Chris Nendick took his place without missing a beat.

It would have been a lot better for the Huskies if they would have controlled the line of scrimmage. And, for that matter, held Andy Brodell to less than 56 yards on the second-quarter punt return that set up the 7-yard scoring run by Young, who totaled 144 yards on 23 carries.

Sims scampered for 110 more yards. That made it easy for quarterback Jake Christensen, the junior from Lockport Township High School, to move into the full-time starting job. His 12-of-29 passing performance wasn't great by any means, but he managed one touchdown pass, to Brandon Myers, for a 13-0 lead, and threw no interceptions.

“I made a lot of mistakes,” Christensen said. “I can improve on ball placement, and there was a particular read (of the defense) I had trouble with.”

Perhaps, but he was saved by Young and Sims and Iowa’s offensive line.

Nicholson, who completed a career-high 26 of 42 passes for 214 yards but threw three interceptions, rarely looked off his lead receiver, which prompted the Hawkeyes to converge on the man he was looking at on almost every throw.

“For the most part, I thought I had pretty good time to throw,” said Nicholson, sacked three times.

The Huskies’ only score was Nendick’s 33-yard field goal late in the second quarter, one matched by Iowa’s Austin Signor late in the third. Other than the drive that ended with the deflected interception at the Iowa 8, Northern Illinois only made it inside the Iowa 20-yard line once in 13 other possessions.

“I’m disappointed but not discouraged,” Novak said. “We got whipped, but it wasn’t as if we didn’t have a chance.”

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