Bulls head west to battle conference leader
Figuring out how to stop a mobile quarterback has become a theme for the football team this season. And things don't get any easier this week.
The Bulls (2-3, 1-0 Mid-American Conference) travel to DeKalb, Ill. in search of their second conference victory in Saturday's game against MAC West leader Northern Illinois (4-2, 2-0 MAC). Buffalo is coming off a win in its conference opener against Bowling Green (1-5, 0-2 MAC) two weeks ago.
Although the Bulls came away with the victory, the team committed six turnovers and allowed Bowling Green to hang around and come back to almost steal the game.
Bulls head coach Jeff Quinn utilized the bye week to work on fundamentals to help prepare his team for the Huskies.
"Northern [Illinois] is a 2-0 football team [in the MAC], and they had a big win against Temple," Quinn said. "This is going to be a great opportunity for our football program to go out and play one of the better teams in the MAC."
In order to beat the Huskies, the Bulls have to figure out how to stop Northern Illinois junior quarterback Chandler Harnish. Through six games, Harnish has thrown for 927 yards and completed 71 percent of his passes. He has tossed eight touchdowns and has thrown only one interception.
If his passing statistics aren't impressive enough, Harnish ranks second on the team in rushing with 425 yards on the season and is tied for the team lead in yards per rush with a 6.7-yard average. He has also rushed for two touchdowns.
Harnish has won the MAC West Offensive Player of the Week award twice this season. He is part of an NIU rushing attack that is thrashing opposing defenses for an average of 236 yards per game.
The battle between the Huskies running game and a Bulls defensive unit that held Bowling Green to nine yards rushing last week could end up deciding the outcome of the game. The Bulls defense has forced 28 three-and-outs this year (5.6 per game), which places them third in the country in that category.
This game will be the best indicator so far as to how good the Bulls defense really is. Quinn is excited to see how his players respond.
"We like the matchup between our defense and their offense," Quinn said. "It's an opportunity for our defense to see where they stand…You have to prove yourself each and every week…It's going to be a great challenge."
Behind center for the Bulls, sophomore quarterback Jerry Davis has had an erratic start to the season. He has thrown for 11 touchdowns, which is tied for 23rd best in the country. But the first-year starter also leads the nation in interceptions with 11.
Davis and the rest of the Bulls offense will look to eliminate turning the ball over against the Huskies. Junior wide receiver Terrell Jackson thinks that the chemistry between Davis and the receivers is coming along nicely.
"We've made giant strides these past couple games," Jackson said. "The win last week was big for us. As a receiving corps, we feel just as responsible when an interception is thrown as the quarterback does. It's not all Jerry Davis… The chemistry is definitely there."
Quinn has decided to make a change at backup quarterback. He moved redshirt freshman Alex Dennison to tight end from quarterback to allow him to contribute more to the team. Freshman quarterback Alex Zordich will move into the number two spot on the depth chart.
"It's not an easy situation," Quinn said. "But Alex Dennison understands his role and he's accepted it, and we're going to continue developing him…We felt like we could find a better place for Dennison on the field… I like the things that [Alex Zordich] brings and we're going to continue working with him to be that next Bull in."
The running back situation for the Bulls continues to be a strange juggling act. On paper, sophomore running back Jeffvon Gill has the best yards-per-carry average on the team, but he continues to rank fourth on the depth chart. Senior running back Ike Nduka has the only rushing touchdown for the Bulls this season but was only able to jump one spot on the two-deep since his performance against the Falcons.
Quinn maintains that it is difficult to manage so many talented players at one position, but he will continue to play the best players when possible. Freshman running back Branden Oliver is still the team's starter because of all the attributes he brings to the table.
"They're all starters in their own right," Quinn said. "And they're all key backup starters from that standpoint. They're all quality young men and we're going to play the best guys. If we have a lot of good ones, we'll play them all."
The game against the Huskies is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Huskie Stadium.
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