DeKALB – For the past eight months, Northern Illinois has been preparing for this afternoon to arrive.
The Huskies haven’t taken the field since their Orange Bowl loss to Florida State. At 2:30 p.m. today at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, NIU finally gets to play, and get rid of the sour taste from New Year’s Day.
NIU is 0-8 against the Hawkeyes all-time. Iowa got a win over NIU at Kinnick in 2006, and won at Soldier Field in 2007. The Hawkeyes were the only team to beat NIU in the regular season last year, winning 18-17 at Soldier Field on opening weekend.
“We did a lot of media interviews in the summertime, and when we came to fall camp, it was all about football. That’s what I’m here for, playing football,” NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch said. “I’m really anxious to get back out on the field. The last game we played, we lost, and I know I’m speaking for our team, we have a bad taste in our mouth. We’re excited to play Iowa.”
A year ago, Lynch was making his first career start. He didn’t have his best game, going just 6 of 16 passing for 54 yards, although he did run for 119 yards and a touchdown.
Now, Lynch has 14 starts under his belt, and there’s a lot of offensive talent that returns from last season.
NIU is most likely going to need to outperform last season’s 17-point effort. Huskies coach Rod Carey, looking for his first career victory, isn’t worried about his team’s offensive potential.
There isn’t a confidence issue.
“Oh yeah. A lot. Confidence, no doubt,” Carey said. “Execution, I’ll tell you about that after Saturday. Confidence-wise, they’re more confident. They’ve done it before. They’ve been there. Most of them are 14-game starters. But execution, we’ve still got to go out and do it.”
On the opposite sideline, Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock will be making his first caeer start – he hasn’t even taken a snap at the collegiate level.
Carey admits that going up against a guy like Rudock is difficult to a certain extent.
“There are some challenges with that because they have never played before and you don’t have any film on them,” he said. “But I think the good side to that is you rely on your basic rules and go ahead and play ball, which is really fundamentally what we’re all about.”
Don’t be surprised to see a heavy dose of running backs Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock, who will be running behind a big and talented offensive line.
“They have a pretty good O-line and they’re pretty sound at everything they do,” NIU linebacker Jamaal Bass said. “If you mess up one time, they can gash you for eight yards. It’s important to play sound defense against these guys.”
NIU'S 5 KEYS TO VICTORY
1. Jordan Lynch vs. BCS teams Lynch didn't have his best performance against Iowa last year. Sure, he had the 73-yard touchdown run, but the QB was just 6 of 16 passing for 54 yards. Granted, his receivers did drop some balls, not to mention it was the first game of the season with a lot of new starters on offense. NIU will need him to be big this afternoon, and expect the playbook to be a litlte more open than it was at Soldier Field.
2. How much will Rudock throw? Conventional wisdom says the Hawkeyes will try to run as much as possible with Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock, and not put too much pressure on first-year starting QB Jake Rudock, who will take his first collegiate snap today. Iowa had some success running the ball in last year's game, so look for a heavy dose of pound and ground.
3. The "new" faces on NIU's defense There's a lot of talent gone from last year, the Huskies replace seven defensive starters. There's also some decent experience back, even though NIU is replacing a lot. Players like middle linebacker Boomer Mays, safety Dechane Durante and corner Marlon Moore are "new" starters, but all started some games last season. Joe Windsor finished the 2012 season with seven sacks in a reserve role. We'll finally find out what these guys bring, and what sort of depth the Huskies have.
4. Tricks, anyone? Dave Doeren was known for putting in some trickery. In the Orange Bowl, NIU converted a successful fake punt and onside kick with Rod Carey calling the shots. In a big spot, on the road against a Big Ten team, should we be surprised if we see any sort of trick play from the Huskies?
Sure it may be cliche, but it's hard to underestimate how much the turnover battle means, especially on the road. The Huskies didn't force a turnover in last season's opener and lost the turnover battle with a Lynch fumble.