NIU blanks Western Michigan, keeps bowl hopes alive

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DeKALB — Northern Illinois University notched its first punt return for a score in 14 years, had its first shutout in four years and kept alive a shot at a second bowl berth in three years with a 24-0 win over Western Michigan on Tuesday.

The Huskies (5-6, 4-3) outgained the Broncos (4-7 3-4) 387-206 in the win. With a victory Nov. 25 at Kent State, the Huskies will become bowl eligible.

Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s victory:

No turnover, but still strong showing for the defense

The Huskies kept the Broncos off the scoreboard for their first shutout since 2019, a 49-0 home win against Akron.

Western Michigan finished with 206 yards of total offense. The Huskies didn’t force a turnover but had six tackles for a loss, including 1.5 for DaRon Gilbert. NIU won the time of possession battle, 39:25-20:35, in large part because of a 287-24 edge in rushing yards.

First time in a long time

Dane Pardridge fielded a punt at the 45 with his team up 14-0. Even with the defenders pouring down on him, he decided to return it.

Pardridge accelerated ahead, cut left and went 55 yards for a punt return touchdown to push the NIU lead to 21-0 with 2:32 left in the third.

It was the first time the Huskies returned a punt for a touchdown since 2009 when Perez Ashford returned one at Miami.

Defense dominates early

The Broncos picked up 11 yards and a first down on their first play of the game. It took them 23 minutes to get their second.


        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

 

The Huskies dominated defensively, holding the Broncos to 63 yards of offense, three first downs and 7:40 with the ball in the first half. Even down 14-0, the Broncos had a 50-45 edge in passing yards at halftime.

NIU ran 41 plays for 219 yards in the first half, while WMU needed 17 plays for its 63 yards.

Brown goes the distance

Up 7-0 midway through the second quarter, the Huskies started first-and-10 at their own 34 and built their lead out to two scores on the first play.

Brown took a handoff and went up the gut. The line provided a huge hole, which he went through and accelerated into the end zone untouched. It was the second of his two touchdowns, finishing with 159 yards on 21 carries before leaving with an apparent leg injury in the third quarter.

All the stops

The Huskies got on the scoreboard first thanks to a 13-play, 83-yard drive that ate 7:21 off the clock. And a lot of it came from misdirection, including a third-and-1 touchdown run. In a jumbo package with only fullback Brock Lampe in the backfield, Brown came around from the right on a sweep and went untouched into the end zone.

The team also ran a lot out of the wildcat with Trayvon Rudolph finding Billy Dozier for a 9-yard pass. They also audibled to the wildcat when Rocky Lombardi started under center, but split out wide while the ball was snapped to Brown, who picked up the first on third-and-1.

NIU went for an onside kick on the kickoff and seemingly succeeded, but upon review Devin Lafayette was called for an illegal block, forcing a rekick.

        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

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