DeKALB – With Northern Illinois off to its best start in six years, Huskies football coach Jerry Kill decided to reward his team.
The Huskies (5-2, 3-0 Mid-American Conference West) players received Sunday off from football activities for the first time this season and will have limited football responsibilities today after Saturday’s 45-14 rout of Buffalo, NIU’s fourth straight win.
But for Kill, the vacation day is more about resting his players’ bodies and minds after seven games without a bye week.
"I think they've worked pretty hard, and sometimes you have to step away from things and then come back ready to go,” Kill said. “We need to get a fresh start on Tuesday."
NIU predominantly has steered clear of the injury bug this season. Although starting safety Tracy Wilson missed his fourth straight game with a groin injury, he was one of only two NIU players inactive for Saturday’s game (defensive tackle Ron Newcomb is expected to return from a foot injury next week).
But Kill often heeds the advice of team trainer Kammy Powell and strength coach Eric Klein, who aren’t afraid to tell the NIU coach when he’s pushing his players to their limits.
Ultimately, Kill decided his team needed a break before Saturday's MAC West home game with Central Michigan (2-5, 1-3 MAC) after a sluggish first half from the offense against Buffalo, in which Michael Cklamovski missed three field goals, Chandler Harnish threw two interceptions and the Huskies' offense failed to score on three trips to the redzone.
Running back Chad Spann will use the time to rest his legs after receiving a career-high 31 carries and rushing for 111 yards, his fourth 100-yard performance of the season, on Saturday.
"He earned his yardage," Kill said.
Harnish, whose sleeveless shirt revealed a few bumps and bruises on his arms during Saturday’s postgame news conference, also could use the physical and mental break after struggling early against the Bulls (2-5, 1-1 MAC) after back-to-back MAC West Offensive Player of the Week performances the previous two weeks.
Harnish said the Bulls’ blitzing 3-4 defense was “frustrating,” leading to a season-worst completion rate (13 of 26 for 160 yards and two touchdowns). But Harnish and the Huskies offense rebounded with a run-heavy attack out of the spread formation to outscore Buffalo 24-0 in the second half.
“Things looked like we're not sure where they're going to go (in the first half),” Harnish said. “Our guys came out in the second half strong.”
Kill wants to ensure his players finish the second half of the season with the same strength and spirited mindset that has carried NIU to the top of the MAC West Division standings.
"A kid's got to feel good to play good,” Kill said. “All you (media) have to feel good to work good. So we have to make sure we keep them hungry and we keep them fresh."