Joel Bouagnon and the Northern Illinois University run game started strong and never stopped, as they defeated the Miami University football team 45-12 Saturday.
Of NIU’s 514 total yardage, 311 were rushing yards. Miami gained 309 yards total.
“Everything they do is set up by the run,” head coach Chuck Martin said. “We didn’t stop what they do to beat you.”
Bouagnon helped the Huskies (4-3, 2-1 Mid-American Conference) to a 21-0 first quarter lead with two 22-yard touchdown runs. Halfway through the third quarter, he struck again on a 53-yard touchdown run. The junior running back accounted for a third of NIU’s run offense, collecting 134 yards on 14 carries.
“It was pretty much what we expected,” said senior linebacker Kent Kern, who led the defense with nine tackles (eight solo). “We just didn’t execute our defense today. We mis-fit a lot of run plays on those long touchdowns, myself included.”
“Once we got better at play recognition as the game went on, we started to fit those things right. At the start, we weren’t recognizing it quick enough.”
Three of the RedHawks’ first four drives were three-and-outs. However, MU (1-6, 0-3 MAC) turned it around in the second quarter. They started moving the ball and kept the Huskies scoreless.
“We didn’t really have to change what we were doing,” Kern said. “Our game plan was sound and our scheme was good, we just needed to start executing. And we did start to execute a lot better in the second quarter … we saw what happened, we didn’t give up any points.”
Miami’s first score of the game was a 36-yard field goal from senior Kaleb Patterson with 5:32 left in the second quarter. The ’Hawks had a chance to reduce NIU’s lead again, but Patterson missed a 38-yard FG attempt wide right with 40 seconds remaining.
“We needed that field goal at the end of the half,” Martin said. “It would’ve made it 21-6 to keep some momentum.”
The RedHawks caught a break in the beginning of the second half on a NIU safety. When junior wideout Aregeros Turner returned the opening kickoff, he crossed the goal line, but reentered and took a knee in the end zone, giving Miami two free points.
MU’s offense regained possession, and freshman quarterback Billy Bahl moved the team 50 yards to the NIU 16. But the drive ended when sophomore cornerback Shawun Lurry picked off Bahl’s pass into traffic and returned it 47 yards.
“Can’t throw picks in the red zone when there’s a great chance to put points on the board,” Bahl said.
Lurry entered the game as the nation’s leader in interceptions. This was his seventh pick of the season and his fifth-straight game with an INT.
“He’s a great player,” Bahl said. “He reads your eyes really well, and that’s what he did on that pick.”
Northern ended the third quarter with a 31-5 lead.
The RedHawks cut the lead to 31-12 with redshirt junior wide receiver Fred McRae’s 25-yard TD catch at the 11:43 mark. It was Miami’s first touchdown in eight quarters and Bahl’s second this year.
“It felt good,” Bahl said.
The Huskies scored two touchdowns in garbage time, putting an exclamation point on their win.
Bahl completed 16 of 33 passes for 156 yards, one touchdown and one INT. His outing was better than last week’s four-interception performance, but Martin said there’s still room for improvement.
“He was obviously much better, but he didn’t start off with a very high bar,” Martin said. “Hanging on the ball and then making a late throw … he’s obviously gotta eradicate that and keep learning.”
The freshman QB also understands the work ahead of him.
“I know being a freshman, being inexperienced, that I have to get in on tape more and prepare for what they’re gonna do to us,” he said. “We made some crucial mistakes, a lot of penalties, negative plays that kept moving us back. We gotta get rid of those and start executing a little better.”
The RedHawks’ 153 rushing yards was the most they’ve collected in four games. Redshirt freshman running back Alonzo Smith contributed 58 of those on 11 carries.
“We ran the ball obviously way better than we have in three weeks,” Martin said. “But moving the ball and scoring points are two different things.”
Junior quarterback Drew Hare led NIU, going 17-for-26 with 206 yards and a TD.
Miami continues MAC play on the road against Western Michigan University next weekend.