NIU struggles in second half in loss to #13 Utah

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(WTVO/WQRF) — The Northern Illinois University Huskies went toe-to-toe with 13th ranked Utah in the first half, but the Utes defense limited NIU to just 69 yards of offense in the second half to claim a 35-17 win at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Utah improved to 2-0 with the win while the Huskies fell to 1-1.

“Obviously we’re disappointed with the loss,” said NIU head coach Thomas Hammock, who suffered his first loss as the Huskies’ head man. “We wanted to make it a four-quarter game and we were right there in the first half.”

The teams combined for 38 points and nearly 500 yards of total offense in the first half, with the Utes claiming a 21-17 lead at the break.

NIU quarterback Ross Bowers was 15-of-21 for 202 yards and a touchdown in the first half, while wide receiver Spencer Tears recorded his first 100-yard game of the season with 106 yards on four catches, most of those coming on a 74-yard touchdown catch and run that tied the game at 14. For the game, Bowers was 21-of-31 for 235 yards with one interception and one touchdown, while Tears finished with five catches for 112 yards.

“I thought [Ross] played well,” Hammock said. “We’re getting him hit way too much and we’ve got to clean up the pass protection. We had some explosive plays in the first half and those play a big role in determining the outcome of the game.”

Bowers was sacked four times in the game, twice in each half.

NIU took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter after a 12-play, 88-yard drive that took 6:53 off the clock. Bowers went five-for-five passing on the drive and added 15 yards rushing, including the nine-yard touchdown run. The touchdown was NIU’s first on the ground of the season.

The teams exchanged punts as the first quarter came to a close before Utah got its offense going as they started a drive on their own 40-yard line. First, the Utes’ Moss picked up 25 yards. Three plays later, quarterback Tyler Huntley hit Britain Covey for 21 yards to give the Utes a first down at the NIU 13-yard line. Demari Simpkins put Utah on the scoreboard with a 13-yard touchdown run with 13:41 left in the quarter.

Bowers hit Tears on back-to-back pass plays to put NIU on its own 48 on its next drive, but the Huskies could not advance and a 15-yard penalty on the punt gave Utah the ball on its 30-yard line to start its possession. They took just 3:16 and seven plays to drive 70 yards with Huntley completing passes
of 26 and 23 yards before running it in himself from the 16-yard line.

Down 14-7, the Huskies took just two plays to respond. On second and nine from its 26-yard line Bowers hit a streaking Spencer Tears in stride on the sideline and the senior went 74 yards to the end zone for the Huskies’ longest touchdown since the 2017 San Diego State game.

Utah came back to re-take the lead as Huntley engineered a nine-play, 75-yard drive. The Utes converted three times on third-and-one on the drive, with Moss going 16 yards for the touchdown on the last of those opportunities. With 2:48 left in the half, Utah took a 21-14 lead.

The Huskies were not done, though. A Bowers to Daniel Crawford completion for 37 yards gave the Huskies a third down conversion of their own and put the ball on the Utah 38-yard line. Passes of nine and eight yards to Tears and Crawford got NIU to the Utah 21 but a sack backed the Huskies up to the 28. From there, John Richardson was good from 46-yards for the longest field goal of his career to pull the Huskies within four, 21-17, at halftime.

Utah dominated the second half, allowing the Huskies just 69 yards of offense and three first downs, two of which came on NIU’s final drive behind back-up quarterback Marcus Childers
Moss scored his second touchdown of the game on a five-yard run to cap a six-play, 70-yard drive to start the half and give the Utes a 28-17 lead.

The Huskies then had fourth and one at the Utah 48 on its next possession but Tre Harbison’s run came up short and NIU turned the ball over on downs.

The NIU defense then came up with a big stop of its own, forcing a Ute incompletion on fourth down at the NIU 31-yard line.

Neither team was able to move the ball until Utah took advantage of the Huskies’ lone turnover to score its last touchdown and take an insurmountable 35-17 lead. Bowers was picked off at the NIU 22 and three plays later, Huntley hit Jaylen Dixon for a 14-yard touchdown.

Defensively, the Huskies limited Moss to just 80 yards on 18 carries, the 17th straight game NIU has not allowed an opposing rusher to pass the 100-yard mark. Huntley finished 14-of-19 for 214 yards and one touchdown.

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