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Northern Illinois’ Defensive Struggles Continue Against San Diego State

Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey now has to guide his team out of an 0-3 start. (Photo: NIU Today)

DEKALB, IL- After their surprising season-opening loss at Wyoming two weeks ago, and their brutal defeat at South Florida last week, it looked like home field would be a welcome sight for the Northern Illinois Huskies (0-3, 0-0 Mid-American). The only problem with that is they would need to get past the San Diego State Aztecs (3-0, 0-0 Mountain West) who possess one of the better offenses in all of college football. And it definitely was a problem for NIU at Huskie Stadium on Saturday after their 42-28 loss. SDSU is led by senior running back Donell Pumphrey, who last week against California became the school’s new all-time leader in rushing yards and surpassed Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk in the process.

Against Northern Illinois, the Aztecs would lean on Pumphrey early and often. The Huskie defense was practically powerless to stop him as he ran for 220 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries. His touchdown runs came from 46, 33, and 79 yards respectively. He averaged over nine yards per carry in an effort that would make Mr. Faulk proud. Pumphrey now has 4,871 career rushing yards to go with 52 career touchdowns, and 24 career games of 100-yards or more rushing.

NIU head coach Rod Carey said after the game that they let San Diego State take advantage in the early going.

“They jumped on us early,” said Carey in his post-game press conference. “When you give a good team a start like that, and they executed a little bit better than we did today, that was the determining factor in the game.”

The Aztecs also found some success through the air as sophomore quarterback Christian Chapman completed 11-of-19 passes for 126 yards and accounted for San Diego State’s other three touchdowns. Northern trailed 28-7 at halftime. The Huskies are off to their worst start since 2011 when they started 1-2. It’s also their first non-conference loss at home since 2009, breaking a nine-game winning streak. But even more concerning is the amount of points and yards that the Huskies have given up in the early going.

Coach Carey’s defense has allowed 40 or more points in every game so far this season. They’ve surrendered 130 total points to their opponents who have gained a combined 1,550 yards in the process. Those are very alarming numbers and uncharacteristic for a Rod Carey coached team. Conference play hasn’t started yet but they’ve already put their chances of earning another MAC Western Division crown in jeopardy as Central Michigan, Western Michigan, and Toledo are already off to 3-0 starts. The Huskies know that they have to fix things in a hurry.

“First (improvement) starts with practice, then watching film, then just go out there and correct the plays that we didn’t correct on the field,” said junior cornerback Shawun Lurry.

The Huskies offense didn’t do their teammates any favors either as they committed two turnovers, went 3-for-14 on third down conversion attempts, 3-for-5 on fourth down attempts, and only reached the red zone three times. After holding their own against Wyoming, the NIU offense has only totaled 45 points since then.

“I just didn’t play well enough,” said sophomore quarterback Ryan Graham. He became the starter when senior Drew Hare went down with an ankle injury at USF last week. Graham completed 18-of-36 passes for 221 yards with three touchdowns, but it was the two interceptions he threw that put his team in a bind.

The bottom line is that this team needs to find their previous winning ways. There are still nine weeks left in the season, but if the Huskies keep having games like this bowl eligibility could be an issue down the road. And it all starts with coach Carey.

“None of us are pleased. I’m not pleased with the way I’ve coached, and (the players) aren’t pleased with the way they’ve played,” Carey said.

The Huskies could have another challenge on their hands next week when they host a 2-0 Western Illinois team who’s already put up 72 points thus far in 2016.

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