DeKALB – This is the team Northern Illinois felt it should've been all season.
This is the team that said its defense was better than what it had showed the first five weeks, it just needed to get away from option teams and back to the Mid-American Conference's more familiar spread offenses.
This is the team that talked about returning to Detroit for the MAC championship game.
This is how you announce – with a 51-22 thrashing of fellow contender Western Michigan – to the rest of the MAC that the road to the West title still goes through DeKalb.
It's hard to figure out where to even start dissecting a game like this, much less which side of the ball was more impressive, during NIU's demolition of the Broncos on Saturday at Huskie Stadium.
The offense continued to pull a Lucy on WMU's Charlie Brown defense in the second half, running the same option-read play over and over again, with quarterback Chandler Harnish pulling the ball away at the last second as the Huskies rushed for 494 yards.
Give credit to Dave Doeren for telling his offensive coaching staff that they were going to run that play until the Broncos stopped it. That takes guts to declare to another team that it can't stop what you're running, and says as much about the Broncos as it does the Huskies that WMU couldn't.
"It was great for us to, as a whole team, like coach said, to click on all three cylinders and come together as a team," center Scott Wedige said. "It's the first time we've really done that, and I think on the offensive line, we like to say we set the tone for the team and I think we did that."
NIU's defense shut down quarterback Alex Carder and company to the tune of 22 points, five of which weren't on them after some special teams mistakes. Carder was forced to hold onto the ball much longer than what the junior is used to, and NIU's defense made him pay with four sacks and an interception.
"You're starting to see a progression now, from game-to-game, where kids are learning the ins and outs and the calls and the strengths and weaknesses and how to mask a certain call to help the next call," Doeren said.
The patience exuded by Doeren and the coaching staff, especially on the defensive side, helped put the Huskies back in serious contention for a MAC title on Saturday. Players said there is a comfort level now on a young defense, and they understand how to execute certain calls smoother.
Combine that with a ready-to-go offense and a special teams unit that, when healthy, won't hurt NIU, and you get the potential for big blowouts.
“I've been telling these guys all year, 'When you click on all three cylinders together at once, you are going to see something you haven't seen yet,' and they did it,” Doeren said. “We're an experienced team on offense. We're a young team on defense. We're young on special teams. It is going to take time to be who they want to be."
That time the Huskies are aiming for has to be Nov. 1, when they travel to Toledo in what should decide which team plays for the MAC title, just as we thought before the season.
"As a football team, we want to wear people down, play great defense, [and] be fresh in the fourth quarter," Doeren said. "Mechanically, they ran the system well today."
They did, and they have for two weeks in what the Huskies said was a playoff from the Central Michigan loss through the end of the season. This is how you win a MAC title.
• John Sahly is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @JSahly