2011 Northern Illinois Preview – Offense
Northern Illinois OT Trevor Olson
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Northern Illinois Huskie Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Offensive coordinator Matt Canada isn't going to change things around too much. He knows the program having cut his teeth as an assistant during the Joe Novak days working with the offensive backfield, and he has a whale of a talent base to play around with. There will be some no-huddle and the overall tempo and pace will be quickened, but there's not need to tinker much with an attack that finished seven in the nation in rushing and first in the MAC in yards, points, passing efficiency, and sacks allowed. MAC Player of the Year Chad Spann is gone, but there are more than enough good running backs to work with. QB Chandler Harnish might be the best player in the MAC if he can stay healthy, and he gets all his top weapons back to work with. Best of all, the line will be the best in the league by a ten-mile-wide margin with all five starters back and at least three sure-thing all-stars in tackle Trevor Olson, center Scott Wedige, and guard Joe Pawlak.
Star of the offense: Senior QB Chandler Harnish
Passing: Chandler Harnish
189-292, 2,530 yds, 21 TD, 5 INT
Rushing: Chandler Harnish
137 carries, 836 yds, 7 TD
Receiving: Willie Clark
42 catches, 602 yds, 7 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior RB Jasmin Hopkins
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR Martel Moore
Best pro prospect: Senior OT Trevor Olson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Harnish, 2) Olson, 3) C Scott Wedige
Strength of the offense: Offensive Line, Running Game
Weakness of the offense: Tight End, Line Depth
State of the Unit: Can the quarterbacks handle the new no-huddle style? With one of the MAC's best veterans returning and with promising depth, the Huskie passers should be just fine with a little tinkering and a little bit of time, and while there should be more passing than under Jerry Kill, the MAC's most efficient attack should once again shine.
If senior Chandler Harnish isn't the preseason MAC Player of the Year, he'll be in the team photo. The NIU attack revolved around the devastating ground game and the 1,388-yard season from Chad Spann, but Harnish did a little of everything finishing second in rushing with 836 yards and seven scores and completing 65% of his throws for 2,530 yards and 21 touchdowns with five picks. The big concern going into the season was his knee, and he missed the opening day loss to Iowa State, but he ended up returning in time to dominate the rest of the way. He started out with 178 rushing yards against North Dakota, and finished with a 300-yard passing day in the bowl win over Fresno State. Of his five picks, two came in a blowout win over Buffalo and the other three didn't matter. At 6-2 and 221 pounds he has decent size and tremendous running ability, but more than anything else, he's a smart, tough leader who's coming off an all-star season and will be the key figure on what should be the MAC's best team.
Harnish has a history of injury problems, and with his running style he's always open to taking shots. That's why sophomore Jordan Lynch has to be at the ready. The 6-1, 215-pounder is a runner who stepped into a tough situation in the MAC championship game and ran for 26 yards, and he took off for 142 yards on just two carries, ripping off scoring dashes of 81 and 61 yards, in the win over Eastern Michigan. He can throw, completing 4-of-6 passes for 13 yards and a score, but he's at his best on the move with 362 rushing yards and three scores on the year.
With the backup situation thin, true freshman Matt McIntosh could be thrown to the wolves right away if disaster strikes. Indiana's Gatorade Football Player of the year won the state title as a junior and finished his career with 5,553 passing yards and 65 scores, along with 3,507 rushing yards and 47 touchdowns. At 6-2 and 185 pounds he's not all that huge, but he can move and he has a live, accurate arm.
Watch Out For … Harnish to take to the new offense without a problem. There won't be major changes to the system, but there will be tweaks. He was terrific this offseason and appears ready for a huge campaign.
Strength: Runners. Harnish is a threat for a 1,000-yard rushing season if he stays healthy, and he might be the worst rushing quarterback on the team. McIntosh and Lynch are great in the open field.
Weakness: Backup experience. Lynch was fine in mop-up time, but if injuries hit the top two options, either it'll be a true freshman under center or former starter DeMarcus Grady will have to move over from receiver.
Outlook: Harnish might be the best player in the conference, and now he'll have more of the workload on his shoulders than before. The less running, the better, but he's too good to keep under wraps. It'll be vital to get him off the field as soon as possible in blowouts, and the more work Lynch can get, the better.
Unit Rating: 8
State of the Unit: Out goes Chad Spann, the 1,388-yard 22 touchdown MAC Player of the Year, and in comes a slew of ready-to-roll backs to help keep one of the nation's best ground games going. It won't exactly be running back by committee, but the wealth will be spread out a bit more to try to keep QB Chandler Harnish from getting blasted on a regular basis.
Former JUCO transfer Jasmin Hopkins didn't get a lot of work, but he was ultra-effective when he got his chances averaging 9.6 yards per carry with two scores on just 38 runs. The team's third leading rusher and second-leading back finished with 366 yards with 104 of them in the blowout of Eastern Michigan, but his high carry total for the season was just six against Illinois early on. At 5-9 and 172 pounds he's a shifty speed back who earned NJCAA Player of the Year honors at Fort Scott CC after running for 1,931 yards and 16 scores, and now he appears to be ready to carry the workload.
5-7, 180-pound sophomore Akeem Daniels is a tremendously fast, quick back who got a start as a true freshman and ran for 62 yards against Toledo. He only finished with 82 yards on ten carries, but he averaged 9.7 yards every time he ran the ball and scored three times. With great hands, he could also be used as a wide receiver.
Junior Jamal Womble brings the thump to the mix. At 5-11 and 246 pounds the former North Carolina Tar Heel is a great pounder who comes in from Hutchinson CC as one of the nation's top JUCO transfers. He moves well for his size and can catch, but he'll mostly be used for his power, while 5-10, 190-pound sophomore Leighton Settle is a speedier option who's ready to go right away after running last year for Fresno City CC. The son of former NFL back John Settle isn't the same type of back, but he's great around the goal line and can hit the home run.
When the offense uses a fullback, the combination of redshirt freshman Luke Eakes and senior Cameron Bell will take over. The 6-2, 248-pound Bell, a former defensive player at Iowa State, ran 39 times for 228 yards, averaging 5.8 yards per carry last year for the Huskies, while the 6-4, 246-pound Eakes is more like an H-Back and a tight end than a true fullback.
Watch Out For … Hopkins to explode. There will be other backs in the equation, and Hopkins won't carry the ball 258 times like Spann did, but he'll be a big play back who should be a lock for 1,000 yards if he can stay healthy.
Strength: Speed. Womble is a pounder, but everyone else in the equation can go the distance any time they touch the ball. Hopkins is a home run hitter, and Daniels and Settle can also move.
Weakness: Spann. The offense will make stars out of anyone with the ball in his hands, but it's still asking a lot to replace the MAC Player of the Year who dominated like Spann did. He hit the 100 yard mark seven times and was automatic around the goal line.
Outlook: The offense won't feed the ball to the backs as much as it did last year, but it'll lean heavily on the ground game and everyone will get a turn at bat. Hopkins is the best of the runners and he'll be the most consistent, but the coaching staff will find ways to get the ball in the hands of the great athletes.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: The NIU passing game should be a bit more prominent, and the receivers are in place to do far more. The top two receivers are back and there's enough speed and explosion and depth to put the ball deep on a regular basis. With a veteran like Chandler Harnish back at quarterback, all the receivers have to do is run the right routes and they'll come up with big plays.
Senior Willie Clark led the team with 42 catches for 602 yards and seven touchdowns averaging 14.3 yards per catch, and now he'll be the top target at the Z position. Steady more than spectacular, he was good for around 3-to-5 catches a game and always seemed to come up with the right play at the right time. At 6-1 and 210 pounds, and great speed – he was a high school track star – he has the tools to go along with the experience. Junior Perez Ashford is another fast target for the Z. The 5-10, 180-pounder caught 19 passes for 206 yards, but he has the former Ohio high school star has the skills and the ability to do far more.
6-2, 182-pound junior Martel Moore grew into the No. 2 man in the pecking order last year finishing with 40 catches for 525 yards and a score, averaging 13.1 yards per grab, highlighted by a four-catch, 110-yard, two touchdown day against Miami in the MAC Championship. Steady and smooth, he can make the tough catch as well as hit the home run at the X. Sophomore Anthony Johnson should be a nice backup option after missing all of last year. At 6-2 and 182 pounds he has the size and athleticism - he was a Texas high school track star in the high jump and long jump – to grow into a dangerous playmaker.
Redshirt freshman Da'Ron Brown is a dangerous 6-1, 192-pound former quarterback with great athleticism and Illinois all-state track speed. Still trying to get the position as a full-time receiver, he'll be brought along slowly at the Y, but he has the skills to be a gamebreaker, while 5-11, 189-pound sophomore Jamison Wells is a quick, physical option who can get across the middle. Along with his football duties, he's a middle infielder for the NIU baseball team.
The F position could be the most interesting because of the dangerous veteran talent combining for the spot. 5-11, 197-pound senior Nathan Palmer finished fourth on the team with 29 catches for 532 yards with a whopping 18.3-yard average and six scores. Steady, he had a great stretch of six touchdown catches in seven games during the midseason and was good for a few catches a game. He's good, but former starting quarterback DeMarcus Grady could be better. The 6-1, 203-pound senior struggled early on with interceptions and was replaced by Chandler Harnish, but he's a great open field runner and has the tools and the home run hitting ability to be an instant factor.
The combination of seniors Jack Marks and Adam Kiel will be working at tight end. The 6-6, 247-pound Marks caught eight passes for 75 yards as a short range target with serviceably blocking skills, while the 6-4, 308-pound Kiel is a blaster for the ground game. A great recruit for the offensive line, Kiel is a tremendous athlete who might have finally found a home after serving as a backup.
Watch Out For … Ashford. Clark is the starter at the Z, but Ashford was among the stars of spring ball and should work his way into three and four-wide sets on a regular basis. He has the talent to do far more after a decent 2010.
Strength: Options. The Huskies might not have the most talented receiving corps in the MAC, but it has one of the deepest with four of the top five receivers back and with a player like Grady good enough to be a dangerous impact performer. Spreading the ball around won't be a problem.
Weakness: Tight end. Dave Doeren was the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, but he certainly knows how the Badger offense worked. The tight ends were a big part of the passing attack, and while Marks has decent skills, he's not going to be a go-to-target on a regular basis. Kiel is purely a blocker.
Outlook: The NIU receivers will come up with lots and lots of big plays with the safeties having to cheat up to deal with the running game. Clark and Moore should be a dangerous 1-2 punch, but Brown has the talent to be a killer and Palmer, Perez, and Grady would be key starters for just about anyone else in the MAC.
Unit Rating: 5.5
State of the Unit: The NIU offensive front was terrific last year allowing a mere 13 sacks while paving the way for the nation's seventh-best ground game. With all five starters returning, look out. There's all-star talent across the board, Big Ten size, and the experience to expect this group to dominate on a weekly basis.
The biggest concern going into last year was replacing longtime all-star Eddie Adamski in the middle. Problem solved. 6-4, 314-pound senior Scott Wedige turned in a First Team All-MAC season with a brutish run blocking style and the consistency needed for the position. A lock for all-star honors again, and about 15 pounds heavier than last year he'll be among the nation's best centers.
The star of the line will once again by 6-6, 302-pound senior Trevor Olson after earning First Team All-MAC honors. A starter for the every game over the last two years at left tackle, the former hockey player is a great athlete who has no problems getting on the move and staying with the quicker interior pass rushers.
6-4, 327-pound senior Keith Otis started every game at right tackle and deserved all-star recognition. A big, bulky blocker who's great for the ground game, he's a big hitter who buries his man and can get to the second level well enough for a player of his size. Very smart and extremely consistent, he doesn't make mistakes. Serving as a key backup at right tackle will be 6-3, 310-pound sophomore Jared Volk, a talented young option who needs to be a key backup. He saw a little time throughout last year, mainly on special teams, but that makes him among the team's most experienced reserve linemen.
Back at right guard after starting every game for the last two years is 6-5, 301-pound senior Joe Pawlak, a Second Team All-MAC performer who was a key blaster for the ground game in the interior. Smart, strong, and experienced, he's a bulldozer who doesn't do a bad job of getting on the move.
6-3, 309-pound junior Logan Pegram is the only non-senior among the returning starters, but he's steady and versatile able to play either guard spot. A nine-game starter at left guard, missing a little time banged up, he came on late in 2009 and started to dominate at times in 2010. He's a good pass protector who generates a nice push. He'll be backed up by 6-6, 274-pound redshirt freshman Tyler Loos, a very smart, very promising athlete who could end up at tackle but is just fine at guard.
Watch Out For … Otis to be an all-star. It almost became a case of too many NIU linemen getting all-star recognition, and Otis was left out on a lot of the fun. With his size, experience, and talent, he'll once again be a key part of the line, and people will start to notice.
Strength: Experience. Few offensive lines in America were as productive as the Huskie front five, and now everyone is back. Consider it a shock if this isn't the MAC's best line by far.
Weakness: Backup experience. The line got through 2010 relatively cleanly with few bumps and bruises to screw things up. It's asking a lot to get the same production two years in a row.
Outlook: As long as the injury bug doesn't strike, the line will be phenomenal. Put Olson and Wedige on the First Team All-MAC team now, and Pawlak and Otis won't be far behind. Pegram is a talent, too. The problem is the second team that needs to hit the weights to get bigger and has to mature. There's nothing to count on among the twos right away.
Unit Rating: 8
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