2003 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR
close, yet so far away". Northern Illinois
got perhaps the biggest bowl snub last year,
staying at home as big conference 6-6 teams,
like UCLA and Northwestern, (undeservedly)
went. In keeping with reality, they know
a 10-win season is still not good enough
if it doesn't generate year-end results.
It goes to show that in addition to taking
care of matters away from home, you also
have to win in your own conference. Appropriately,
a 6-2 record in the MAC wasn't impressive
in the minds of the bowl powers. This year's
team has the motivation to go out and take
care of business - but motive must be followed
by production. Doing and saying are two
different things, eh?
offense will prove steady, again, and put
some hefty points on the board. The Huskies
averaged 32 points a game, while topping
40 four times. With too many "ifs"
on defense, they must stay healthy to improve
their marginal stopping abilities. Defensively,
they just don't have a strong enough mentality
conviction to be a dominating presence in
the pass-happy MAC. Look for the LBs to
carry this squad while watching a yearlong
process of developing some solid DBs for
the future. Their development will directly
reflect any overall improvement in team
from Maryland, the terrors on the schedule
will again be offensive kings Bowling Green
and Toledo. We expect the Huskies to take
one of those games (most likely Bowling
Green). Winning the MAC West would mean
taking both, and we don't see that happening.
Ultimately they will again play the role
of the bridesmaid and watch one of the two
aforementioned favorites play for the MAC
title. Ultimately, they will really have
only themselves to blame if/when title efforts
collapse, for their talent levels and game-slate
is favorable for another national attention-getting
2004 record: 8-3
Josh Haldi, 336-199-9, 2544 yds., 25 TD
Rushing: A.J. Harris, 66 att., 271
yds., 2 TD
Receiving: Sam Hurd, 29 rec., 438
yds., 2 TD
Scoring: Shatone Powers, 5 TD, 30
Punting: Anthony Gallagher, 63 punts,
Tackles: Brian Atkinson, 108 tot.,
Sacks: Brian Atkinson, 6 sacks
Interceptions: Rob Lee, 5 for 17
Kickoff returns: Lionel Hickenbottom,
6 ret., 17.3 avg, 0 TD
Punt returns: Dan Sheldon, 12 ret.,
12.5 avg., 0 TD
15, 2004 - The era of A.J. Harris
has begun. The junior tailback rushed
for 157 yards on six carries including
touchdown runs of 65 and 70 yards
to lead the Northern Illinois University
White Team (offense) to a 37-0 win
over the NIU Red Team (defense) Thursday
(April 15) evening at Brigham Field
at Huskie Stadium.
didn't take long for questions about
the future of NIU's running game to
be answered, as Harris took the game's
opening handoff 65 yards for the score.
In an amazing show of speed, Harris
raced over left tackle and glided
untouched to paydirt, to make it 7-0.
quick-strike offense made it 14-0
when Josh Haldi hooked up with Dan
Sheldon for a 45-yard score. On a
post pattern down the middle of the
field, Sheldon got behind the NIU
defense and raced the final 15 yards
to the endzone.
Huskies' final touchdown came via
another spectacular Harris run. Wowing
an announced crowd of 1,543 NIU faithful,
Harris scampered 70 yards over left
tackle to make it 34-0. With the run,
Harris pushed his halftime-rushing
total to 155 on just five carries,
an average of 31.0 yards per attempt.
Harris finished the day averaging
26.2 per carry.
Zach Ullrich, 9-8-1, 37 yds.
Phil Horvath, 8-5-0, 42 yds.
Josh Haldi, 1-2, 45 yds., 1 TD
A.J. Harris, 6 att. 157 yds., 2 TD
Adrian Davis, 9 att., 40 yds.
Sam Hurd, 2 rec., 34 yds.
Pat Raleigh, 2 rec., 27 yds.
Shatone Powers, 2 rec., 26 yds.
Lee Javan - 5.5 tackles
Dustin Utschig - 5 tackles
Rob Lee, Devron Francis, 1 int. each
P.J. Fleck-WR, Keith Perry-TE, Michael Turner-TB,
Todd Ghilani-C, Steve Azar-K
Frank-DE, Vinson Reynolds-DE, Leonard Cooksey-NT,
Nick Duffy-MLB, Randee Drew-CB, Akil Grant-SS
Novak has an intelligent QB with starting experience
in senior academic all-American Josh Haldi. Haldi,
who enters his third year as the Huskie signal-caller,
has been getting progressively better each season.
He won't dazzle you with his arm or his feet,
but he'll beat you with genuine game management
and mistake-free football. The real focus this
spring was finding a worthy backup. Four players
will continue to wage for that role into the fall,
but Zach Ullrich looks the eventual fit.
There must be something in the water in DeKalb,
because the Huskies consistently produce great
backs. A.J. Harris did everything he could to
make the Huskie faithful forget "The Burner's"
departure. Harris had one of the most productive
spring games in the country. Harris is lightning-quick
and has decent size to take the inevitable punishment
a RB endures. Novak will use a committee of backs
to benefit Harris and drive this offense, notably
Cas Prime- a guy who'll be the next great in the
Shatone Powers and Sam Hurd have to step up from
being primarily blockers to become feature WRs.
They will need to develop into go-to guys for
Haldi, taking focus away from the ground attack.
Hurd is the consistent one, while Powers and "Mr.
Excitement", Dan Sheldon wear the big-play
tags. Sheldon is proven a clutch receiver, tough
enough to go over the middle and haul in anything
thrown his way. We also feel there is something
special about Jarret Carter. Obviously, they have
to throw to these guys to develop what they want,
so play calling and balance are essential ingredients
for expanding the corps' roles.
End and Offensive Line
At NIU, TEs need to be both a presence up front
and a threat downfield. Brad Cieslak fits that
mold best, possessing all-MAC qualities in both.
The Huskies line up two at a time, and will experiment
with Nordin, Raleigh, and impressive youngster
Brandon Davis until the proven second TE is clear.
what you will about the running game, but the
engine that drives this (any) offense is the front
line. The Huskies perennially own one of the MAC's
best lines, annually paving the way to success
for their backs. Three starters come back, headlined
by All-MAC OT Jake VerStraete. This group is nasty,
tough, and mobile, so these new backs should have
no problem getting used to the versatility of
the NIU hogs. This worthy crew will generate cohesion
and produce yet another vehement rushing force.
See Huskies. See Huskies Run. Run Huskies Run.
The passing game has been steady the past few
years because they've been liberated/anchored
by a strong running game, so the balance of the
two is their strength, not one or the other. Straight
up - as the run game goes, so goes the pass. Harris
will be the feature of this machine. Accordingly,
if/when the run game fails (as opponents see this
juggernaut coming this time), this could turn
out to be one of the uglier offenses in the MAC.
Calm yourselves, Huskie faithful - we don't see
that happening. Assuming, though, that most factors
stay equal as they were when the 2003 campaign
ended, this squad will have to find another gear
for when solid defensive opponents (Bowling Green
did them in '03) meet them half way.
ILLINOIS 2004 DEPTH CHART
Returning Starters in bold
Haldi-Sr (6-2, 205)
Horvath-So (6-3, 194)
Zach Ulrich-Fr (5-11, 191)
Harris-Jr (6-1, 219)
Davis-Jr (5-5, 181)
Garrett Wolfe-So (5-7, 171)
Hurd-Jr (6-3, 195)
Carter-So (6-3, 198)
Powers-Jr (6-1, 186)
McDermott-Sr (6-2, 180)
Sheldon-Sr (5-11, 175)
Woods-Sr (5-9, 193)
Cieslak-Sr (6-3, 259)
Raleigh-Jr (6-5, 242)
Free-So (6-6, 276)
Acevedo-Fr (6-6, 301)
Lueck-Sr (6-4, 305)
Rogers-So (6-5, 259)
Van Archer-Jr (6-5, 273)
Daglas-Jr (6-4, 290)
Ebenhoch-Jr (6-4, 294)
Biondi-Fr (6-3, 331)
VerStraete-Sr (6-7, 311)
Woodfork-Bey-Fr (6-5, 303)
Miskov-So (5-11, 204)
Nendick-Fr (5-11, 163)
Seniority exists up front, but don't confuse that
with experience. The Huskies will introduce three
new starters. Travis Moore earned all-MAC honors
in 2002, but sat out last year with an injury
that continues to persist. Fellow DE Kursten Strothman
is making the switch from OLB, so his versatility
speaks volumes about his ability to pursue and
tackle whoever he wants. To the novice football
mind it may seem like an easy transition, but
the responsibilities are fairly contrasting. This
unit is the starting point for making the pitfalls
from last years "almost run" (namely,
the season's last few games show us how the defense
itself was the culprit).
The linebackers are more secure in comparison,
and good thing - they carry most of the accountability
in this "attack 4-3" scheme. MLB Brian
"the beast" Atkinson is the best player
on this side of the ball. He earned All-MAC honors
with his coupling of speed and knack for seemingly
always being around opposing ball carriers. He
excels both against the run and the pass. OLB
Jason Hawkins could be the next-best player on
this defense, simply by association. Playing on
the strong side, he is likely to see most of the
offensive flow come his way. Depth is prevalent
and helps make this unit the strength of the defense.
This is a problem area for the Huskies. They ran
into troubles when teams could effectively and
consistently throw downfield. Though they intercepted
a MAC-best 23 passes, they yielded 230 YPG and
a 55 % completion rate in the process. Solace
is that the yardage totals were offset by NIU
having the 37th-ranked pass efficiency defense,
so there is reason to believe. Lionel "Boogie"
Hickenbottom is a tackling dynamo from his FS
position and CB Rob Lee is the team's top ball-hawker
from '03. Attention will be paid to the opposite
CB spot, where the Hansbro twins - Adriel and
Alvah - will compete with highly touted RSF Jimmy
Toussaint. The competition and speed of the new
corners will add to the overall quality of this
unit, making them tougher to beat through the
The Huskies thrive on forcing turnovers. 2003
was so great because they had 31 takeaways (roughly
2.5 a game), keeping opponents away from opportunity.
But this defense is by no means outstanding, for
both losses land squarely on the 'D'. Champions
are defined on this side of the ball. If not for
a high-scoring offense, they would have been a
6-6 team at best. Success this time will come
from the transitions made in the trenches. The
front line is the key - when they step into their
potential, this entire side of the ball will tighten
to optimal levels. Such (overall defensive) levels
need to be higher (than in '03), for, as stated
prior, foes will see their subtle balance coming
on offense, meaning NIU's points will likely be
a few less, and therefore defense becomes the
foundation for any continued success.
ILLINOIS 2004 DEPTH CHART
Returning Starters in bold
Strothman-Sr (6-2, 240)
West-So (6-2, 234)
Wilson-Sr (6-1, 264)
Schroeder-Fr (6-4, 260)
Pittman-So (6-1, 306)
McIntyre-Jr (6-1, 290)
Moore-Sr (6-2, 242)
Holman-Jr (6-3, 240)
Hawkins-Sr (6-3, 233)
Hutton-Jr (6-1, 236)
Atkinson-Sr (6-1, 223)
Blalark-So (5-9, 213)
Lee-Jr (6-2, 211)
Watson-Sr (6-2, 210)
Hansbro-So (5-11, 171)
Toussaint-Fr (5-9, 157)
Lee-Sr (6-1, 195)
Hansbro-So (5-10, 173)
Smith-Jr (6-1, 181)
Utschig-So (5-11, 191)
Hickenbottom-Sr (6-1, 196)
Francis-Sr (5-10, 180)
Gallagher-Sr (6-0, 207)
Tovar-Sr (6-0, 228)
Losing a kicker like Steve Azar is like losing your
wallet - it's going to take some time to recover fully
from that lost security. Second-generation kicker Aleks
Miskov will compete with incoming freshman Chris Nendick
for the placement duties. Though kickers commonly have
small feet, these are some BIG shoes to fill.
Anthony Gallagher returns to punt, but needs to improve
his hang time and leg strength. He's a faithful "coffin
corner" kicker (23 inside the 20 in '03), but will
be counted on to drive opponents out of Huskie territory.
Dan Sheldon - like we said, he's Mr. Excitement. If
you want to see a masterful PR display, just watch the
Huskies play Steve Suter and the Maryland Terps on September
4th. Kick returns will go to Hickenbottom.