DeKALB – From a strictly historical standpoint, calling tonight's Northern Illinois-Western Illinois matchup a trap game for NIU would have to be considered an upgrade.
The Huskies (0-1) open up the home portion of the their schedule at 6:30 p.m. at Huskie Stadium against an opponent that's not only difficult to prepare for, but the Leathernecks (1-0) have practically owned NIU in their recent games.
NIU fans have to go back to 1989 to find the last time the Huskies have beaten Western Illinois. A string of three straight losses – all at Huskie Stadium – served as reminder this week that Western Illinois isn't to be taken lightly. The Leathernecks have defeated bad NIU teams (17-0 in 1996) and good NIU teams (29-26 in 2002).
"P.J. [Fleck] consistently reminds me and our football team," NIU coach Jerry Kill said, referring to the Huskies' wide receivers coach and former player who lost to the Leathernecks at home.
The Huskies said this week that what makes Western Illinois so difficult to prepare for are the multiple schemes and different looks the Leathernecks defense will present the NIU offense with out of a 3-4 set.
"They run a real unique defense, a lot of different fronts and coverages," NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish said. "But I feel like if we do what we do and get the ball to our playmakers that we'll be just fine."
"They force you to be very smart about what you're doing and you've got to make sure your guys are sound and they're all on the same page," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "They do a good job of whittling people's game plan down and then attacking it."
In addition to that, Western Illinois' offense is dangerous, led by junior quarterback Matt Barr. Barr threw for 437 yards on only 18 completions last week in a 35-28 victory at Sam Houston State.
"He's a shifty guy, can get out of trouble," Kill said. "He's what I call a designated scrambler where can step up in the pocket, slide out of it and throw the ball deep. He's very gifted, has natural instincts."
Kill owned a 6-1 record against Western Illinois while he was the coach of Southern Illinois, but that didn't bring a whole lot of comfort to him this week, remembering that two of those wins were by a combined three points.
"Frankly, to be honest, at Southern we struggled with them," Kill said. "We won some games but we struggled with what they do. Most people do."
Add that to the list of concerns of an FCS opponent with its one shot this season against an FBS team it has had success against in the past.
"I've been on that side," Kill said. "I know exactly what's being told. They will bring the [hard] hat. They will be physical. They will be ready to play. That's their opportunity."