DeKALB, Ill. — Coming into Saturday afternoon’s game at Northern Illinois, Cal Poly football coach Tim Walsh let everyone know how versatile and explosive he thought the Huskies’ offense could be.
Taking on an FBS-level opponent for the second time this season, the Mustangs fell victim to a balanced, nearly flawless first-half scoring display, trailing 34-7 at halftime on the way to a 47-30 loss in front of a crowd of 14,321 at Brigham Field.
After two quarters, Cal Poly (1-3) had given up 347 yards of total offense and 23 first downs. With everything rolling, three of the Huskies’ four first-half touchdown drives — each of which was at least 53 yards long — took less than two minutes to complete.
“They came out at a pace that was probably a little bit quicker than we thought it was going to be, and we had a tough time adjusting to that early on,” Walsh said. “They got us spinning a little bit in the first half and got the game to where it was going to be tough to get back into it. But, at some point in time, we were back into it.”
Northern Illinois (2-2) was held to a more manageable 10 first downs and 195 yards after the break, but by that time, the damage was already done.
“We knew going into the game,” Walsh said. “I said, ‘If they’re able to run the ball, they’ll be able to throw the ball because you have to commit so much to stop their running game.’ The difference in the game was they were able to come out and establish the running game, and they got to a pace and a comfort zone.”
Jasmin Hopkins finished with a career-high 143 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
Huskies quarterback Chandler Harnish was almost as much of a factor on the ground, rushing for 118 yards and a TD on 13 carries.
“It’s one of those things that’s hard to account for,” Mustangs cornerback Asa Jackson said of Harnish’s mobility. “Unless you spy somebody on him, there’s really nobody in the defense who takes care of that, so no matter how well you may have been covering in the secondary or how good your pass rush is, there’s that playmaking ability.”
The 6-foot-2 Harnish, who’s commonly projected as a fifth- to sixth-round NFL Draft pick, also went 18-of-21 passing for 187 yards and two TDs.
With Saturday’s performance, Harnish broke Northern Illinois’ 48-year-old career touchdowns-accounted-for-record, eclipsing the old mark (65) of College Football Hall of Famer George Bork.
“He’s a fifth-year senior. He’s a savvy guy, and he knows how to play the game,” Jackson said.
Last year, Northern Illinois finished a breakout season by routing Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl, 40-17, and finished just outside of the Top 25 national FBS rankings in both the AP and coaches polls.
The coach from that team, Jerry Kill, was promptly snapped up by Minnesota, but in addition to still having Harnish — a Davey O’Brien Award watch-list member — the Huskies also returned all five starting offensive linemen.
Of those five linemen, not a single one stands shorter than 6-3, and all weigh at least 300 pounds.
“Those six or seven guys that they have up front are good players,” Walsh said. “They were a load for us. We’re not the biggest team in the United States.
“These guys played at a different level (from most FCS opponents) up front,” he added. “I think, as good as their backs are, as good as the quarterback is, I think that those guys up front for them deserve a lot of credit.”
The Mustangs didn’t help themselves by committing five penalties for 48 yards in the first quarter alone.
“In the beginning, penalties were hurting us,” Cal Poly running back Mark Rodgers said.
Cal Poly bounced back with a positive third quarter, though, outscoring the Huskies 10-0, and then broke even with a 13-13 fourth.
“We made a few adjustments front-wise, which helped us, and we (fixed) some tendency things that helped us a little bit in the second half,” Walsh said.
Cal Poly didn’t punt in the second half and successfully converted two of three fourth-down attempts after the break.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but we asked our team to fight in the second half and fight the whole fight, and I thought we came out and competed extremely well,” Walsh said.
Quarterback Andre Broadous finished with 103 yards and two TDs on 24 carries and was 5-of-10 passing for 49 yards for the Mustangs.
Fullback Jake Romanelli rushed 16 times for 98 yards and a score, and Rodgers ran for 94 yards on 16 carries and caught a 26-yard TD pass from fellow running back David Mahr on a trick play.