DeKALB – Northern Illinois is flying high after last week’s win at Minnesota, the Huskies’ third win against a Big Ten team in program history.
But NIU coach Jerry Kill wasn’t going to try to bring his players down a notch heading into today’s 5 p.m. Mid-American Conference opener at Akron. Kill, who said he’s learned from discussions with NFL coaches to approach each game the same, learned his lesson last year.
Worrying his players would grow complacent after a 28-21 win at Purdue, Kill pushed his players leading up to a disappointing 34-31 home loss to Idaho.
"I probably made a mistake as a coach, worked our kids and probably overworked them going into Idaho,” Kill said. “And Idaho's like Akron. They're good football teams."
Actually, Akron is 0-4 after falling to three automatic qualifying BCS conference teams and Gardner-Webb, a Football Championship Subdivision team, in a 38-37 overtime loss. The Zips have the 10th-ranked offense in the MAC and the 11th-ranked defense.
But Kill sympathizes with first-year Zips coach Rob Ianello, a former Notre Dame assistant, and said the Huskies (2-2) won’t take the Zips lightly after surviving their own tough non-conference schedule.
“We could've been 0 for 4 if you look at it really,” Kill said. “We could've been 1-3. They played three BCS schools ... and you got a brand-new coach. Boy, that's delivering him a nice present when he started.
"Going into the MAC, it's the MAC. Every week you're going to face someone that can beat you and you have to play well. We need to just take care of what we do."
But Kill said he isn’t too worried about his team's mindset after another win against a Big Ten foe because the players didn’t react with the same Purdue-like jubilant shock following the win over the Golden Gophers.
The four NIU players at the team news conference Tuesday – fullback Connor Flahive, offensive tackle Keith Otis, defensive tackle Nabal Jefferson and linebacker Jordan Delegal – were taken aback when asked by a reporter if they had discussed lessons they could apply from last season’s loss to the Vandals.
“There’s been no talk of that; we’re just focused on this week,” Flahive said. “I hadn’t even thought about that until you said it right now.”
The Huskies have talked about the importance of today’s game, regardless of their non-conference record, since the summer. The team’s top goal is a MAC championship, not a win against a Big Ten team.
"I hope we go in with the same hunger and determination to be great, practice great and to come out and take the gameplan our coaches put together and really put together a good game against MAC teams just as we did against a pretty good Illinois team, a pretty good Minnesota team,” Otis said. “I hope we just continue to get better instead of getting complacent, because that's how you lose."