DeKALB – The weekend trip out west will be an odd experience for the Northern Illinois football team.
For starters, the Huskies have a three-and-a-half-hour flight from Rockford out to Lewiston, Idaho. Then it’s a 40-minute drive up to Moscow, where the Huskies will hold their walkthrough Friday at the Kibbie Dome. After their walkthrough, it’s another one hour, 45 minute drive to the team hotel in Spokane, Wash.
Moscow, located in “The Palouse” area along the Idaho-Washington border, is a small town. Pullman, Wash., home of Washington State, is less than 10 miles away, and the Cougars host Southern Utah the same day.
With games at both the Kibbie Dome and WSU’s Martin Stadium, there’s even less hotel availability in the area than usual.
Spokane is the closest decent-sized city, and the Huskies will stay there Friday night, making the long bus trip again Saturday morning.
“The longest [bus ride] I remember is like 45 minutes on game day,” NIU linebacker Michael Santacaterina said during Tuesday’s weekly news conference. “It’s something we’re going to prepare for. We’re just going to have to handle it the right way and be mentally tough about it.”
It’s certainly not a gigantic obstacle for the Huskies, but it’s outside the norm, and something unusual for the team.
NIU coach Rod Carey said the team’s schedule won’t change, but the amount of time in between things will.
“You get into a routine and you do it, it’s not a huge deal, but it’s something you want to be aware of,” Carey said. “[At Iowa ] we were 30 minutes [from the hotel to Kinnick Stadium]. You’re not just going to put your team on a bus and not tell them how long of a trip to expect.”
When NIU actually takes the field, the Huskies will be in an unusual environment against a team Carey said will get an emotional lift because it is the Vandals’ home opener.
The Kibbie Dome is a unique half-circle building and Idaho (0-2) is one of six Football Bowl Subdivision teams to play its home games in a dome. NIU certainly isn’t a stranger to playing in a dome as the Huskies played at Ford Field for the Mid-American Conference championship game the past three seasons.
Northern Illinois claimed a 42-35 win over Idaho at the Kibbie Dome in 2007.
Carey has also coached at the Kibbie Dome before, back when he was the offensive line coach at North Dakota in 2010. Carey’s team suffered a 45-0 loss.
He said the 16,000-seat venue can be noisy, and it can be tougher for the players to breathe – Moscow sits more than 2,500 feet above sea level.
“We’ve been doing some extra conditioning to prepare for that, get our wind ready,” Santacaterina said.
Should the Huskies (1-0) do what they’re expected to and get a big victory, the long trip back to DeKalb probably won’t be so bad.