DeKALB – Detroit is in view.
In the rear-view mirror for Northern Illinois? History. Lots of it. Along with the Toledo Rockets after a 65-30 shellacking by the Huskies on Tuesday night at Huskie Stadium.
In the days leading up to Tuesday’s blowout, NIU players and coaches talked about emotional topics, the “strong dislike” defensive end Jake Coffman held for the Rockets. The talk about last year and what happened in a dramatic loss at the Glass Bowl in Toledo last season was another issue, along with whether or not this matchup was a rivalry or not. The seniors had the additional emotional hoopla that comes with senior night.
Yet there were the Huskies, putting on one of their most business-like performances of the season, especially on the opening drive. A professionally-run, 14-play drive for a Chad Spann touchdown with no plays of negative yards, no penalties, all business.
"I told them in pregame, 'Hey, be excited about playing, but keep your head.' I said the first time that loses their head is going to be the one that loses the game and I thought we kept our heads very well early in the game," NIU coach Jerry Kill said. "That's why we got off to a good start."
It was what Central Michigan’s drives under Dan LeFevour looked like the past few years.
The Huskies did what they wanted, how they wanted to do it, mowing down Toledo’s defensive with ruthless efficiency.
It reminded me something NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish told me last year in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., of how he walked up to LeFevour after the Huskies lost to the Chippewas and simply told him, “I want to be like you.”
While there’s no chance of reaching LeFevour’s historic numbers, the command of the offense, the quick-strike ability, the fearlessness in his throws and most important – the wins – all of that evidence is starting to pile up toward Harnish’s goal. And NIU is poised to take the spot that Central Michigan previously dominated, in the MAC title game with a win in either of its next two games or a Toledo loss in one of its final two.
Harnish had the longest run of his career Tuesday, a 69-yard scamper in the third quarter and a rushing touchdown on a draw. He threw into tight spots but wasn’t reckless, consistently moving the ball down the field and making the right reads.
"We're playing football right now and we're not putting too much pressure on ourselves," Harnish said. "We're just taking it one game at a time. Honestly, my coach, Jim Zebrowski, the quarterbacks coach, has done a great job of keeping me relaxed and humble and just going out and playing every game."
That he was able to put all of it together against the Rockets, the same team in which he injured his knee against and thought he might not ever play again as a result, and do it with an even-tempered approach isn’t surprising at this point. It’s how the Huskies have handled the entire season, ignoring any of the drama.
Tuesday was the litmus test for that approach. Talk about emotion, but play without it affecting the game in a negative way. The overwhelming history of this series said the Rockets would find a way to win, that the Huskies would let their emotions get the best of them and forget a key assignment or not make a critical catch.
The Huskies left all of that, along with the Rockets, in the past. That’s why their future is in Detroit.
• John Sahly is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at email@example.com.