Another new opponent: After losing opener by 6 points, Northern Michigan University football team set for Texas-Permian Basin in Superior Dome

Northern Michigan University’s Ryan Johnson, left, prepares to pass during the team’s spring game on March 29 in the Superior Dome in Marquette. The incumbent coming into this season, he won’t start Saturday’s game against Texas-Permian Basin in favor of Latrell Giles. (Journal file photo)

“What we worked on to get ready for last year’s McKendree team will carry over to what (Texas-Permian Basin will) do.” — Kyle Nystrom, NMU football head coach, on getting ready for the offense of this week’s opponent

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MARQUETTE — A missed opportunity may be the best way to describe last weekend’s season opener for the Northern Michigan University football team.

The Wildcats, 1-10 a year ago, took on a good McKendree team that had lost quite a bit on defense, so it appeared as if this would be a chance to get in the win column.

Instead, the Wildcats ended up hurting themselves with some bad penalties and couldn’t put points on the scoreboard when they needed to in a 34-28 loss. As a result, Northern started the year 0-1 instead of 1-0.

“Looking back (at) the game, our goals for a team were for offense to have good ball security, which we did until the end,” NMU head coach Kyle Nystrom said earlier this week. “We wanted to rush the ball for 150-plus (yards) and pass the ball for 150-plus and have some balance. We did that.

“Also, part of the goals in that game were to avoid critical and costly penalties. We didn’t do that. We had two touchdowns called back on holding and when you play on the road with the window and door of opportunity opens up for you, you’ve got to run through. You can’t shut it on yourself and we did that.

“We had a 4th-and-goal and six inches and we got in ‘bunch’ and they ran what I call a pinch double stinger. They got away with it. They brought the stinger from the outside of the bunch and nobody blocked him and he hit Jake (Mayon) in the ankles as soon as he got the ball. You’ve got to block that.

“So there’s 21 points and we missed a field goal spotted at the 8-yard line. There’s 24 points and we just threw them into the street. You can’t do that on the road. You can’t overcome those kinds of mistakes and that’s what cost us the game.

“We’re better and in the first half, that’s as good of defense we played at Northern since I’ve been here,” Nystrom said about a 7-7 halftime tie. “On defense, our goals of the game were communication, alignment and adjustment. We were pretty good at that and tackling. That’s always a concern going into the first game, how well you’re going to tackle. For the most part, we tackled pretty well.

“The other critical goal that we talked about Friday night (just before the game) was you have to limit the big plays you give up. We didn’t do that. We gave up three verticals for big plays and you can’t do that.”

Heading into this weekend, Nystrom had a key quarterback decision to make as the Wildcats will face a Texas-Permian Basin team that is coming off a loss where they put up a good fight against FCS foe Texas Southern, rallying to pull within 10 points before running out of time.

The debate was whether returnee Ryan Johnson or newcomer Latrell Giles would get the start as Johnson was last week’s starter before leaving after only two plays.

Giles played fairly well in relief before leaving the game as well, but Nystrom said that Giles would be under center this weekend in the Superior Dome.

“Latrell is good,” Nystrom said. “He had a hand cramp and it was such a bad cramp that he couldn’t open his hand up, so we’re over that. It was hot and we did the best we could do to prepare to go down there. I think it was 89 (degrees) but it was well over 100 on the field. It was humid and even McKendree’s defense was gassed.

“We had all kinds of cramping problems and I knew it was going to happen. Where we’re located, there’s nothing I can do to get around it. The only thing you can do is shut the doors in the dome and turn the heat up, but that costs too much money so we don’t have that option.

“We traveled (with) 58 players and we played 53 in that game. So we played a lot of people because we knew it was going to happen like that and we did the best we could to keep them in the best shape that we could, but it still caught up to us. Ryan will be back, but I was happy with Latrell.”

The Texas-based Falcons like to spread the ball around offensively as six players got the ball to spark the rushing attack. Quarterback duties were also shared between Sam Allen and Kameron Mathis, with Allen having the more productive day, throwing for a touchdown and running in another one.

Defensively, UT-PB is led by defensive end John O’Kelley, who finished with seven tackles, 3 1/2 for loss, along with three sacks and a forced fumble. Marquee Allison, Quinn Tinley and Chris Hoad each had six tackles last week for the Falcons.

“They’re an open team,” Nystrom said. “They’re (like) a Big 10 team. They want to spread you out and open up the gaps and play games on the bubble with you on the run game. They’re a good zone team and they’re a very good gap-scheme team, which McKendree was last year and which they didn’t do hardly at all (last week).

“What we worked on to get ready for last year’s McKendree team will carry over to what they (the Falcons) do. They’re a new startup program and they do a nice job with what they do.”

Heading into the weekend, Nystrom just wants his squad to focus on improving themselves and that their frustration of losing last week will be enough to get them pumped for their home opener.

“Everybody is irritated and grouchy and a little on the edge,” the coach said. “We just have to find ways to win instead of just throwing away when we get those chances, and it’s hard.

“You can’t just talk to them or tell them a story or tell them Greek mythology or ‘Carpe Diem’ or anything else.

“That works on TV. Until we go through it and we can pull one out, and it’s a hard thing to do, and we do it the right way, that’s when you crack the seal.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.