DeKALB – Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill was shocked to walk into a tranquil Huskies locker room two hours before Tuesday’s kickoff with Toledo.
“I was antsy all day waiting for a 6 o’clock game,” Kill said. “But I think the kids handled it better than I did.
“I felt really good because there wasn’t a word said in pregame. Usually there’s a little bit of talking, things like that. There wasn’t anything said in pregame. I didn’t know if that was good or bad.”
It was all good for NIU.
The Huskies (8-2, 6-0 Mid-American Conference) rolled Toledo 65-30 to take control of the MAC West.
With a one-game lead and the tiebreaker over the Rockets (6-4, 5-1 MAC), NIU can clinch its first MAC Championship Game appearance since 2005 with one more win in its final two games or one Toledo defeat.
The Huskies finish the regular season with road games at Ball State (3-7, 2-4 MAC) and Eastern Michigan (1-8, 1-4 MAC).
“It was a long wait, but I think that was good because people were itching to play,” NIU defensive end Sean Progar said. “There wasn’t a lot of goofing around, talking. It was real silent before the game. I think people were just ready to play.”
There’s no science to the mood of the Huskies’ locker room before games. Some weeks, there’s singing and joking.
Other weeks, the only sounds come from the clatter of cleats on the concrete floors.
Kill said his job involved little motivating during the nine-day break between a 28-21 win at Western Michigan and Tuesday’s primetime, ESPN2 matchup with Toledo.
“I had to keep people grounded and focused in on what we need to do to win the game,” Kill said. “With the websites and the media and all the things that go along with it, these kids already know what’s going on with the game. I was worried about us being too up for the game and our kids not executing. That wasn’t the case.”
The Huskies will enter their next two games as overwhelming favorites and likely will receive more attention in the national rankings – the Huskies received nine points in the AP Top 25 poll and eight points in the USA Today Coaches Poll last week – after trouncing the MAC West’s second-best squad in front of a national audience.
But NIU coaches won’t be telling their players how good they are.
“It’s easy to pat yourself on the back and go, ‘Boy, we scored 65 points.’ But we’ll find a way in that coaching room that if we were our best, we should’ve scored 80 and defensively we should’ve stopped them more,” Kill said.
“We’re going to stay after them now. And they know it.”