Mike Breese from Red And Black Attack took the time to answer some questions I posed to him about Northern Illinois.
1. Tell us a little about the offense: strengths, weaknesses, and the playmakers.
Strengths: Running Backs. Chad Spann did his thing running for 1,038 yds and 20 TDs last year, despite battling the whole year for playing time and playing through a shoulder injury late in the season. He is our rock and there is a ridiculous amount of talent behind him. Although Iowa State transfer Cameron Bell is ineligible for the opener, senior Ricky Crider and JC transfer Jasmin Hopkins may see some time on 3rd down and screen plays.
Weaknesses: Well we have a lot of mysteries that may or may not be weaknesses. Coach Kill isn't going to announce the starter at QB until gameday, so who knows what's going to happen there. The offensive line lost two All-MAC players at LG and C, but they have suitable replacements that should be able to mesh together and provide the way for the backs. The WR corps is young and still has a lot to prove outside of a strong possession guy in Landon Cox. Look for a younger speedy player like sophomore Martel Moore to make some extra plays downfield.
2. Tell us about the defense. From what I've read, this is the strength of the team. What is their scheme, and what makes this unit so good?
The Huskies run a pretty basic 4-3 scheme and their shtick last year was that if they stopped the run effectively, everything else will follow. Last year we came within 8 pts of beating Wisconsin and held them to only 157 total yds on the ground. They don't blitz all that much, but make it count when they do. Pretty much everybody returns on a defensive line that should have an improved pass rush this year. The secondary was rung out to dry a lot last year, but with a year of starting experience under their belt they should be able to shut down more people in man-to-man coverage.
3. How awesome is the name "Coach Kill"? Seriously. You can't make stuff up like that! What is the biggest thing Coach has brought to the program that it was missing in the past?
Having "Kill" as the last name of your coach is a headline writer/blogger's dream. I can't wait until we "Kill" a team this season, so that I can use it. The biggest thing he has brought to the program is his ability to take all the resources that NIU has and get the absolute maximum potential out of them. This team probably wasn't a "bowl team" per se the last couple years, but Kill took the no-nonsense approach to things and won the games that he was supposed to. Recruiting has also been phenomenal, as he has upgraded the athleticism on this team tremendously. 3 years in, we are close to seeing what a Jerry Kill team is truly capable of.
4. What is something about this team, that nobody is talking and/or writing about?
Probably the fact that this is still an extremely young team. Sure at the top of the depth chart there will be some veterans, but after you peel off the layers it's going to be a bunch of freshmen and sophomores out there. Athletically gifted young players, but players that may make some mental mistakes. Especially at linebacker.
5. Lastly, how does the game go down on Thursday? Who wins, and what is the score?
The first half is going to be like the cold war. Both teams will be conservative on offense and the total score won't be over 17. Then in the 2nd half, NIU decides to take some chances on offense and the defense forces a turnover or two. Huskies win this one 24-16, the same score of the 2003 game.
Thanks again to Mike, and be sure to check out Red And Black Attack for more on Northern Illinois!