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BOGACZYK: Heater Says Herd Must Tackle Huskies' Attack, Efficiency

Chuck Heater
Dec. 22, 2014

By JACK BOGACZYK

HERDZONE.COM COLUMNIST

            BOCA RATON, Fla. – Marshall Coach Doc Holliday calls Northern Illinois – the Herd’s Boca Raton Bowl foe Tuesday night -- “the best overall team we’ve played to date.”

            In the FAU Stadium matchup of Conference USA and Mid-American Conference champions, Marshall also will face what veteran defensive coordinator Chuck Heater says is the most efficient offense the 12-1 Herd has seen in 2014.

            “They don’t make many mistakes,” Heater said of an 11-2 Huskies’ team that has only 12 turnovers in 13 games. “They possess the ball, sustain drives.”

            Heater said the Herd defense must pay special focus to NIU sophomore quarterback Drew Hare, and not because he’s thrown only two interceptions in 299 attempts. Hare is one of the top rushing QBs in the country, with 850 ground yards.


 

 

            Hare would be approaching 950 ground yards were it not for lost yardage on sacks.

            “We’ve seen some similarities before, in Florida Atlantic, with their quarterback (Jaquez Johnson),” Heater said. “They ran some single-wing offense, and that’s what Northern Illinois does, with the quarterback being the ball carrier and the running back becoming a blocker, creating an extra gap in the run game.

            “They spread it (with the receivers) and you get the extra hat in the gap with the lead back. It’s like two backs in the backfield, and it helps them as far as gaps are concerned.

            “Not everybody can do that, and it means you have to account for the quarterback at all times, not (playing) 11 on 10. He’s the old single-wing tailback, so it will be something we’ve not seen to the extent we’re going to have to deal with it.”

            Asked what concerns him the most about the Huskies’ offense, Heater didn’t hesitate with his response.

            “They stay out of third-and-long,” Heater said of the MAC champ that has an FBS-best 101 third-down conversions, and ranks 12th in conversion percentage at .483. “How do you get someone off the field? You put them in third-and-long.

            “Well, Northern Illinois stays out of those situations. They don’t penalize themselves and they move the ball. There are a lot of third-and-mediums and third-and-3s, 4s, and you get a higher (conversion) percentage then. That’s the big thing with them. They stay out of third-and-long, possess the ball, keep your defense on the field.”

            So, that’s a crucial matchup, because the Herd ranks seventh nationally, holding opponents to a .302 conversion percentage (61-of-202).

            Heater said the NIU passing game is likely to remind Marshall of … the Herd itself.

            “They really do have a lot of the same concepts we have,” he said. “It’s a lot of run options. They’re going to run the ball (with the play call), but if they like the numbers or the leverage, they’ll screen it or throw it deep, depending on the situation, off a run action.

            “They’re like us – as much like us as anyone we’ve played this season.”

            Heater, who is also the Herd’s secondary coach, said one thing that won’t be different for MU in the bowl game is where the Herd defense gets its impetus.

            “The key for us … the defensive backs always have to cover, the corners have to cover and there’s added stress on them at times,” he said. “Corners covering is always critical for us. Our defense, it starts there, for us to be able to do what we do. Those guys have a lot of pressure on them, and if they cover well, it allows us to do a lot of things we want to do.”

            For NIU Heater knows it starts up front on offense. The Huskies have 166 career starts in their starting front five, and four of those five have started at least 32 games. The other lineman, right guard Tyler Pitt, is a fifth-year senior who will play in his 54th NIU game in the Boca Bowl.

            “They’re good, and it’s a veteran group of guys,” Heater said. “That’s where you want to have a lot of experience. Those guys have played a lot of football games and a lot of bowl games. They’ve played in the Orange Bowl (2012) … very seasoned.

            “And they play to their strength. They’re a rugged group of guys, and they run the football (the NIU play ratio is 64 percent run, 36 percent pass), and they take pride in that. Their head coach (Rod Carey) is a former offensive line coach, so that’s very much who they are, personality-wise.”

            The 6 p.m. kickoff presents an opportunity for the Herd, and not just because the ESPN telecast will offer a quality game with no football competition on the air. Holliday, Heater and offensive coordinator Bill Legg have had no trouble selling the magnitude of a game between conference champs with a combined 23-3 record.

            “You’re trying to become what Northern Illinois has become,” Heater said. “The last five years or so, they’ve been that team -- at least 11 wins a year -- always in the conversation about the bigger bowl, and in it one time.

            “So, they’re very much the standard-bearer for the rest of us who are trying to become that team.”

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