DEKALB. Ill. – There were very few positives to draw upon in UB’s 45-3 loss to Northern Illinois on Saturday. The run game was stifled. The special teams gave up a big gain on a fake punt. The turnover count favored NIU, 3-1. But some solace could be taken in the production of wide receiver Devon Hughes, who at least for a day became the No. 2 threat the Bulls have sought all season.
Hughes led all UB wideouts with nine catches for 105 yards after catching just eight balls for 89 yards in the previous four games. Coming in, there was a 17-catch separation between Alex Neutz and the next wideout on the list – Hughes.
“I felt like I got into a zone with the quarterbacks,” Hughes said. “All week we had been working on timing, just getting things down pat. Fred Lee, even though he’s been out [injured], he’s been a leader, pushing me, making sure I stay focused. Alex can’t do everything. We got to find somebody who’s going to take the pressure off him.”
Hughes slipped out of a starting role to start the season as the Bulls leaned on Cordero Dixon, one of the team’s faster players. But Dixon’s been a non-factor with just five catches and none Saturday.
“It started off as being frustrating but I had guidance, I had leaders like Fred just telling me to be patient and just keep working hard,” Hughes said. “As you can see it’s finally starting to pay off.”
Tempers flared late in the first half when NIU safety Jimmie Hall dislodged Neutz from a would-be completion with a powerful hit. Hall stood triumphantly over Neutz and gestured to the Buffalo sideline, actions that helped prompt his ejection and had some UB players trying to get at him. Personal fouls were called on both sides on the next play as well. UB coach Jeff Quinn called timeout with 10 seconds left in the half to get the minds of his players back on football.
“We need to understand it’s a very competitive game, a lot of hard hitting, a lot of collisions, and I didn’t want our football team to lose its poise and composure. That’s one of the things I expect is our kids to go out and play the game the right way,” Quinn said.
“What I didn’t appreciate is the fact he was posturing over Alex Neutz when he got hurt. It’s one thing playing good good football, but it’s another thing when you start posturing. That’s certainly nowhere near the kind of sportsmanship I would expect out of any player that plays this game.”
Neutz remained down, but in a sitting position, for maybe two minutes but returned to the game two plays later. He was running a vertical along the right sideline when he was leveled by Hall as the pass from Alex Zordich hit his hands. He finished with seven catches for 81 yards.
Northern Illinois had far greater success stopping the run than UB. The teams were at the top of the MAC in rushing rankings.
“We knew we had to run the ball and stop the run, and we did that,” said NIU coach Dave Doeren. “We knew we had to be better on defense on third down and we were. We knew they were going to throws slants and fades and we [contested] those balls.”
Captains for UB were Zordich, Gokhan Ozkan, Colby Way and Jake Stockman. ... Zordich saw his streak of consecutive games with a TD pass snapped at five. ... NIU has won 11 straight MAC games, the nation’s longest in-conference win streak. ... UB was held without a touchdown for the first time in 10 games. Devin Campbell fumbled at the NIU 1 on the game’s final play. ... Linebacker Khalil Mack had a game-high 10 tackles and 1.5 tackles for losses. ... The Bulls recovered an opponent’s fumble for the first time this season on NIU’s final possession.