Defense has the edge as Huskies end spring drills with scrimmage

The Northern Illinois University Huskies wrapped up 2014 spring football practices Saturday at Huskie Stadium with a modified version of the “Huskie Bowl” won by the Cardinal Team made up of the entire NIU defense.  

Points were awarded for one-one-one drills, a field goal competition and third-down conversions in seven-on-seven situations before the offense and defense squared off in a non-tackling scrimmage.  Following all of the drills, field goals and seven-on-seven plays, the Cardinal (Defense) led the Black (Offense) just 33-30.  The scrimmage session was all defense, though, as the Cardinal Team earned 36 points for forcing three-and-outs and turnovers, and stopping the offense before it reached midfield.

In 13 drives, the Huskie offense was able to generate one touchdown as junior quarterback Matt McIntosh hit Juwan Brescacin on a 75-yard touchdown pass. The defense negated that score with a 38-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Ladell Fleming off a McIntosh pass on the scrimmage’s first drive.

NIU Head Coach Rod Carey said he saw a lot to like from the Huskie defense, which was playing a lot of young players.

“Defensively there were a number of guys that impressed me, it was good to see,” Carey said.  “[We had] a bunch of young guys running around out there like William Lee inside, who impressed. Perez Ford and Austin Smaha played well today. At linebacker, I noticed Cody (Hazelett), Jamaal (Payton), Sean Folliard, and Boomer (Mays). Marlon (Moore) did a great job at safety.”

The Brescacin touchdown was one of just two times that the NIU offense crossed midfield during the scrimmage as the defense scored at least two points on 11 drives during the scrimmage.

 The Huskies’ three candidates to replace Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch at quarterback – McIntosh, Drew Hare and Anthony Maddie – split reps throughout the spring and again during the scrimmage periods on Saturday. All three have had better days this spring, according to Carey.

 “I thought it was the first day we went backwards [at that position],” Carey said. “It was also ‘thud’ out there (no tackling), so some plays that got called [down] at five yards might have, in a game, gone 10.”

Carey said he was excited to continue the position battles that started this spring in August. 

“We tell them all when we recruit them that it is up to them to come in and earn a spot,” he said. “Every time you step on the field you are in a position battle. There isn’t anything set. I think there is a good battle going on at running back. I think there is a good one up front on the o-line. (Ryan) Brown and (Tyler) Loos are out right now, our two starting tackles, and (Josh) Ruka, (Levon) Myers and Lincoln Howard have played really well this spring, so Brown and Loos better come back ready. On defense, we have some good battles at inside linebacker. We have that whole crew coming back, and they all want to get on the field.”

The Huskies will next be on the field together on August 1 when they begin fall camp after adding the 2014 signing class, many of whom were in attendance Saturday.  NIU opens the 2014 campaign on Thursday, Aug. 28 versus Presbyterian at Huskie Stadium.