DeKALB - Northern Illinois University football coach Joe Novak didn’t need to hear the news that Appalachian State knocked off Michigan to respect Southern Illinois.
In one of the biggest upsets in college football history, Appalachian State shocked the nation by beating the Wolverines 34-32 in Ann Arbor. Following Saturday’s 16-3 loss to Iowa, Novak addressed Michigan’s loss to a Division I-AA team, now the Football Championship Subdivision, when asked about playing host to Southern Illinois Saturday.
The Salukis enter Saturday’s match ranked 10th in this week’s FCS poll.Novak expressed nervousness over playing the Salukis, who nearly knocked off the Huskies in 2004 at Huskie Stadium.
“I’m nervous,” Novak said. “We were lucky to beat them three years ago.”
Monday morning, during the Mid-American Conference teleconference, Novak repeated his concerns hosting the Salukis.
“They’re an exciting football team, a heated rival for us,” Novak said. “We’ll get their best effort. I know any team like that gets their confidence (up) when they see Appalachian State beat Michigan.”
The Huskies (0-1) find themselves in the same position Iowa faced at Soldier Field: nothing to gain, and everything to lose.A loss to the Salukis would be disastrous for a team searching for an identity - and confidence - following a frustrating loss to Iowa.
“One thing about playing a Big 10 team or a team like that in your opener is that you get a true evaluation of your football team,” Novak said. “Now its up to the coaches and players to take what we learned and have a great week of preparation. Everybody says you make your biggest progress from week one to week two, and we need to do that.”
The first area needing improvement is the offense. The Huskies weren’t able to move the ball against the Hawkeyes. They finished with 21 net rushing yards and 235 total yards. The Hawkeyes, not considered one of the best defenses in the Big Ten, held the Huskies to 98 yards after intermission.
Novak repeated his preseason concerns over the play of his young offensive line.
“We gave up three sacks and six other big hits on the quarterback,” Novak said. “That’s too much punishment.”
Junior quarterback Dan Nicholson struggled trying to find open targets against Iowa’s Cover 2 defense. He completed a career-high 26 passes on 42 attempts for 214 yards. But he tried to thread the needle with several questionable passes, finishing with three interceptions.
“We knew how they were going to play us today,” Nicholson said after the game. “It was hard to take shots downfield when they played that Cover 2 and we missed a few throws underneath.”
Even with sixth career starts, Nicholson already owns big-game starts in the 2005 MAC title game and the 2006 Poinsettia Bowl. Novak said Nicholson’s main problem is getting too excited for big games.
“He does get a little too revved up,” Novak said. “That was a little bit of the situation on Saturday. He has to learn to think more like a quarterback, more even-keeled. He took six big hits when he wasn’t getting sacked. I think he felt a little pressure and got a little happy with his feet. He’s got to learn not to (do that). It’s partly that, and his makeup. He thinks like a linebacker. He gets wound up.”
Against the Hawkeyes, the Huskies showed some improvement at wide receiver. Britt Davis caught six passes for 75 yards. Greg Turner had three catches for 49 yards, and Matt Simon hauled in two passes for nine yards. Nicholson wasn’t afraid to dump off passes to his tailbacks. Justin Anderson and Montell Clanton combined for eight receptions for 39 yards. Novak said what hurt the offense was the lack of yards after catches.
“We counted 50 to 60 yards after catches,” Novak said. “We have to make plays after the catch.”