The Northern Illinois Huskies held their first extended scrimmage of the preseason Sunday at Huskie Stadium, with both the offense and defense enjoying success at different times during the nearly two-hour workout.
The “back-and-forth” nature of the scrimmage, as well as the level of play and competition on both sides of the ball, gave NIU head coach Dave Doeren reason to be pleased with his squad as the Huskies enter the final week of the preseason.
“Today kind of went back and forth,” Doeren said. “The defense started fast and the offense finished. The defense won the last two-minute series, and the offense did a good job in the red zone. There was great competition today and that’s what I loved about it. [Going into this last week] I want to see more of what you saw today. I want to continue to see both sides competing and making plays.”
With several first team players on both offense and defense held out of the scrimmage with minor bumps and bruises, including tailback Jas Hopkins and receivers Willie Clark, Nathan Palmer and Martel Moore, young players and newcomers like Leighton Settle, Jamal Womble and Akeem Daniels at tailback, and Tommylee Lewis, Jamison Wells and A.J. Sebastiano, got the opportunity to shine in live action situations. The defense, meanwhile, played without linemen Sean Progar, Nabal Jefferson and Alan Baxter, and defensive backs Demetrius Stone, Courtney Stephen and Sean Evans.
Wells, who juggled his duties as a starting outfielder for the NIU baseball team and football during the spring, caught five passes for 71 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown catch-and-run on a pass from quarterback Chandler Harnish. The Huskies’ only other touchdown – outside of red zone and two-minute situational drills – also came on a long pass as Jordan Lynch hit DeMarcus Grady with a 41-yard strike. Mat Sims hit a 25-yard field goal to collect the first points of the scrimmage for the Huskie offense.
Not including the red zone and two-minute situations, Harnish completed nine-of-12 passes for 99 yards while Lynch was four-of-nine for 49 yards. Harnish also rushed three times for 11 yards as carries were spread among seven players. Settle and Womble each carried six times with Settle collecting 12 yards and Womble seven.
Defensively, Rashaan Melvin’s field goal block, which was picked up and returned for a score by Dominique Ware during red zone drills, and Tommy Davis’ leaping, one-handed interception on the sideline, were the Huskies’ most spectacular plays. The defense forced the offense to go three-and-out on three of its first four possessions and 15 of NIU’s 22 rushes went for less than four yards.
“The defense started fast, then the offense kind of got it going,” Doeren said. “[I was pleased to see] The offense took care of the ball and the pass protection was much improved. We tackled pretty good. For the most part, the first guy was getting the runner on the ground. We didn’t turn the ball over except for the blocked field goal and return, and Tommy Davis’ interception on fourth down.”
Sunday’s scrimmage saw both the first and second team offense take about 35 snaps, or half of what an offense usually gets in a game. Prior to the scrimmage, Northern Illinois worked on special teams, tackling drills and seven-on-seven for nearly an hour.
Northern Illinois returns to the practice field today for the third of five two-a-day sessions this preseason. The Huskies are scheduled to practice at 8:35 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at Huskie Stadium. NIU’s preseason football practices are open to the general public.