DeKALB – Looking at a prospective team’s schedule wasn’t a key factor when Rocky Lombardi was finding a school to join after deciding to leave Michigan State last year.
So when Lombardi landed with the NIU Huskies, he had no idea that a return trip to face the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the spot of one of his best performances as a Spartan, was in the cards.
[ Michigan State starting quarterback Rocky Lombardi transfers to NIU ]
Lombardi said it wasn’t until a talk with coach Thomas Hammock after he committed to NIU that he found out the Huskies had a trip to Michigan on their 2021 slate.
“I didn’t even know NIU played them until I had committed,” Lombardi said. “Coach Ham talked to me when I did commit, said we have Michigan Week 3. I was like well, sure enough, of course. It was exciting we get the opportunity.”
The Spartans stunned the Wolverines, ranked No. 13 at the time, 27-24, in Ann Arbor. Lombardi threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns in the win.
But after the season, he transferred to NIU after nine starts with the Spartans and 22 total games. And NIU (1-1) is heading to No. 25 Michigan (2-0) for an 11 a.m. kickoff Saturday.
[ ‘We don’t need Superman:” quarterback Rocky Lombardi adjusting after first week of spring practice with NIU ]
“It’s big, first of all. Obviously, the biggest stadium in the country,” Lombardi said. “That’s something you notice right away. You walk into it, and it’s much bigger than a lot of stadiums you play in. The environment is always good there.”
Hammock said that Lombardi hasn’t really addressed the team on what it takes to win in the Big House. Hammock said they’re not trying to put too much pressure on getting a win at Power Five school – something they did just two weeks ago in a 22-21 win at Georgia Tech.
“We try not to make it bigger than what it needs to be,” Hammock said. “It’s the next opponent on our schedule, and we have to go play our best football. We’ll go with our normal routine of being prepared for the game.”
The Huskies are coming off a 50-43 home loss to Wyoming. After being down by 26 in the third quarter, the Huskies rallied to lead in the fourth, but Wyoming scored late for the win. Lombardi threw three interceptions in the loss.
Those are Lombardi’s only three picks of the year, and he has completed 56.6% of his passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns this year.
Lombardi said he has worked with the coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Eric Eidsness, on making sure he improves Saturday.
“I had some tipped passes not go our way last week, and that was unfortunate,” Lombardi said. “Coach E and I talked about some ways to avoid that, some schematic ways to avoid that. At the end of the day, I have to find the window to fit the ball in.”
Hammock said Lombardi isn’t solely to blame for the interceptions.
“I think, unfortunately, the quarterback position is one people are going to be highly critical of,” Hammock said. “But two of the interceptions were deflected passes, and the third one, really, that’s on us as a coaching staff. We had an RPO off a counter play, and we put him in a bad situation. We take full responsibility for that, and that’s something we need to clean up.”
Hammock said the Wolverines are different from last year, with a slew of changes on the coaching staff. That includes new defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald, who worked with Hammock on the Baltimore Ravens’ coaching staff.
“What they did in the past is really insignificant to how they are playing right now,” Hammock said. “I worked with their defensive coordinator for five years. I have a pretty good knowledge of what they’re trying to do.”
Lombardi said he’s just happy to help with whatever Hammock asks him to do leading into Saturday’s game.
“I’ve let coach Hammock address the team how he wants, say what he needs to say,” Lombardi said. “The time will come where I’ll say what I need to say, but we’re focused right now on what we need to do.”