May 24, 2024
Sports - DeKalb County


NIU football: From pressing to poised, Marcus Childers looks to build on career-performance in MAC Championship win

DeKALB – This fall, Marcus Childers admittedly tried to do too much to prove his spot as the starting Northern Illinois quarterback was deserved.

Thrust into the starting quarterback role as a redshirt freshman in 2017, Childers had impressed the NIU coaching staff with his command of the offense in spring ball and training camp leading up to this season.

Childers found himself badly wanting to show that he deserved the spot he had firmly grabbed last fall on his way to Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year honors.

“First time being the starter, you just want to go and prove to everyone you’re a good quarterback,” Childers said. “I think I was pressing a lot because I wanted to be that guy to win those [first] four games.”

The Huskies went 1-3 against a challenging early-season slate that featured losses at Iowa, Florida State and at home to eventual Pac-12 runner-up Utah.

Childers passed for between 104 and 111 yards in three of the first four contests. Over the first four games of the season, the Huskies’ offense completed passes of 20 or more yards only three times.

The deep threat that existed in years past was not present in the Huskies’ offense early in the season. The passing continued to struggle at the end of the regular season against Miami (Ohio) and Western Michigan, especially in the second half of both games.

“The last few games, we were going to have to throw the football, and I just didn’t do what I was supposed to in the second half,” Childers said. “Had a really great first half the last two games, and just didn’t do what I needed to do in the second.”

The deep ball spark finally ignited in Detroit at the MAC Championship game, when Childers overcame an early second-half interception by tossing three touchdown passes over the top of the Buffalo defense. His 21 completions (on 33 attempts), 300 passing yards and four touchdowns set new season highs.

“I saw the poise, and I saw the decision-making that I saw in practice all the time,” NIU coach Rod Carey said. “Now the challenge is you’ve done it once, you’ve got to do it again … and translating it to game day.”

Childers completed touchdowns of 26, 32 and 35 yards and completed passes of 34 and 24 yards in the game.

“I knew my team needed me, and I knew we were going to throw the ball coming out of halftime,” Childers said.

“We threw the ball farther down the field in the second half. The guys made catches obviously, and Marcus put it in the right spot, and we protected well,” NIU offensive coordinator Mike Uremovich said. “Throwing the ball is, when it’s not going good, it’s not always just the quarterback, it’s not always just the receivers, it’s not just the [offensive line].”

“We’ve been missing those all year. We’ve run the ball really well, and we’ve been real spotty passing it,” Uremovich said. “So to execute that way and have all those guys play well in that game was very good and encouraging for the bowl game.”

The Huskies’ offense, which suffered from drops over the course of the season, injuries to its tight ends and inconsistency in execution that kept the offense from functioning at the level the coaching staff has boasted about in practice all season.

Running the football had long been a strength of Childers, as evidenced by his 169 rushing yards in a comeback win over Ohio.

“He loves to run the ball. He has no problem with that. He enjoys those play calls,” NIU quarterbacks coach Craig Harmon said. “He’s got a decent move here and there. Sometimes he does a little too much shaking for me.”

But watching Childers in the MAC championship game showed Harmon that the quarterback could employ the in-game adjustments he had better come to understand.

Detroit proved to be the stage to employ what all the Huskies believed they could be capable of in the passing game all season. More of the trust in the system Childers played in slowly developed through the season.

“I just wanted to be that guy that could go out and make the right reads and plays and do the right things in the right moments for our team,” Childers said. “I think at the beginning of the season, I wasn’t there. I thought I was, but I wasn’t there. But I think that I matured over the last two games and actually got a lot better over the last 12 games.”

The Huskies’ passing offense still has plenty to prove if it is to show the successes in Detroit weren’t a flash in the pan.

NIU still ranks 119th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing yards a game (153.5) and 127th in passing yards a completion (9.3).

In the Boca Raton Bowl, UAB likely will load the box, and Childers will be forced to test the Blazers’ corners deep in man coverage.

“Hopefully, we can beat them over the top a few times, get them out of that man coverage and let them play some zone and run the ball on them, too,” Childers said.