First half deficit proves too much to overcome
Iowa State quarterback Austen Arnaud completed 27 of 36 passes for 265 yards and added 14 rushes for 45 yards to lead the homestanding Cyclones to a 27-10 victory over Northern Illinois Thursday in the 2010 season opener for both teams.
Northern Illinois lost its seventh straight season-opener dating back to the 2003 overtime win over No. 15 Maryland at Huskie Stadium with all seven losses to ACC, Big Ten or Big XII opponents.
Arnaud and ISU built a 17-0 first-half lead on Arnaud’s two-yard run, tailback Alexander Robinson’s 63-yard dash and a Grant Mahoney 41-yard field goal as the Cyclones controlled play for much of the half. NIU Head Coach Jerry Kill said Iowa State had his team playing tentatively in the opening half.
“I thought we were shell-shocked in the first half,” Kill said. “Defensively, we were scrambling and overall we played like a nervous football team. They had us on our heels and had us thinking. In the second half, we settled down and played better. We bounced around and played with a sense of urgency. I think we know we’ve got to come out of the gate quicker.”
NIU’s best scoring chance of the first half came after Huskie safety Tracy Wilson intercepted an Arnaud pass and returned it to the Iowa State 23-yard line with 57 seconds to play in the stanza. Northern Illinois reached the ISU 16 but missed a 33-yard field goal attempt as the half ended.
The Huskies were out-gained 279-112 in the first half and earned just five first downs to the Cyclones’ 15. NIU could not convert on seven third-down attempts and finished the game just three-of-13 on third down conversions.
“On third down, you’ve got to make a play,” Kill said. “That’s the point of football. We work on the sets in practice all the time.”
Northern Illinois’ first score of 2010 came on the Huskies’ first drive of the second half as NIU got the second-half kickoff and drove 67 yards on 14 plays to the ISU two-yard line. From there, freshman kicker Mathew Sims put his first career field goal attempt through the uprights to trim the Cyclones’ lead to 17-3.
The Huskie defense stepped up on ISU’s next possession as linebacker Tyrone Clark stopped an Iowa State drive by grabbing his first career interception and returning it 30 yards to the NIU 42-yard line. Northern Illinois narrowed the gap to 17-10 on its first possession of the fourth quarter. DeMarcus Grady scored on a one-yard plunge to complete a nine-play, 40-yard drive, with all of the yards on the drive coming on rushes by Grady and tailback Chad Spann. Grady finished the game with 54 yards on 14 carries while Spann had 80 on 17 totes.
Iowa State responded to the Northern Illinois score with a 10-play, 73-yard drive and put the game away on a five-yard touchdown run by Robinson with 5:05 left in the game. After another Grady pass was tipped and intercepted, ISU added a 23-yard field goal.
Following the game, Kill said the Huskies were disappointed, but not discouraged.
“We didn’t handle sudden change or adversity very well. We have to get better at that,” Kill said. “We’re not down on ourselves. We were in the game in the fourth quarter and we didn’t make a play. As a football team, we’ve got to get some things fixed. Sometimes you’ve got to play the first game to get things figured out. At times we ran the ball OK, but we’ve got to get better at all phases of the game. We have to go back and correct the mistakes. We still have a chance to have a very good football team.”
Overall, the Northern Illinois defense held Iowa State to just 28 rushing yards on 20 second-half carries and the Huskies finished the game with 156 rushing yards to ISU’s 138. The Huskies had 137 total yards in the second half while limiting Iowa State to 124.
The Huskies now have nine days to prepare for the first home game of the season as North Dakota visits Huskie Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 11. Tickets for the season-opener are available anytime on www.NIUHuskies.com or by calling the NIU Athletics Ticket Office in the Convocation Center during normal business hours at (815) 752-6800. Tickets are just $20 for a single game with season tickets and 2010 mini-plan options still available. NIU student tickets are free.
For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.