DeKALB – There are bad quarters, there are dumpster fires, then there’s whatever NIU’s third quarter was Saturday in a 27-20 loss to Ball State.
It approached the level of gypsy curse, possibly demonic trickery, in the quarter en route to the loss.
In the third quarter alone, NIU (1-4 overall, 0-1 MAC) had six penalties for 56 yards. It also had three fumbles, two of them lost, 38 yards of total offense and a 14-point lead at halftime that was gone by the end of the quarter.
And the fourth quarter didn’t get any better until garbage time; the Huskies gave up the lead for the first time to the Cardinals (2-3, 1-0), and for good, on the first play, a 45-yard touchdown run. NIU then turned the ball over on an interception by Ross Bowers that led to three more points. The comeback very clearly wasn’t going to happen.
So Ball State wins for the first time against NIU since 2008. The Huskies started hot, scoring on their first two possessions. An Antonio Jones-Davis interception led to a touchdown, then the Huskies put together a 77-yard touchdown drive on their second possession.
But the drive chart after that definitely resembles a demonic fever dream, especially the second half – punt, punt, fumble, fumble, punt, punt, interception, turnover on downs, field goal, end of game.
First-year coach Thomas Hammock said he’d take the blame in the loss – but also said the main thing he has to do is make the players focus better. Very coach-y stuff.
“I think I’ve got to get the players locked in on playing four quarters of football,” Hammock said. “It’s something we’ve talked about. I think it’s nobody else’s job but mine. I’m going to look adversity in the face, and we will continue to fight week in and week out to find the consistency we need to be a good football team.”
That’s still pretty vague and doesn’t address specifics. So I asked if part of that introspection involves the game plan or playcalling.
That was an emphatic no. Hammock said if execution was better, they wouldn’t be second guessing the game plan. Then he talked about blocking out noise – which I can only assume involves questions looking for specifics beyond the typical “execution” answer and columns about gypsy curses.
“There’s going to be a lot of outside noise, and that comes with the territory,” Hammock said. “But we have to ignore it, and we have to go to work. We have to continue to grind. This is where we find out what kind of men we are.”
We’ll see how Hammock whips his team into shape next week at Ohio. Because if the Huskies don’t improve, it’s going to be much worse than a seven-point loss against the Bobcats.
You never want to push the panic button after five games of a first season under a new coach. But that button sure is flashing and big and bright when there’s a dearth of positives.
Unless Hammock can fix things, or unless an NIU player, coach or fan finds a non-cursed monkey paw, this has the makings of a long season.