DeKALB – Here’s what Northern Illinois University coach Thomas Hammock, defensive tackle Demond Taylor and linebacker Dillon Thomas are saying as the Huskies (2-2) prepare to host Eastern Michigan (3-1) for homecoming in the Mid-American Conference opener for both teams.
Hammock on what the NIU defense, having allowed 390 yards a game, needs to do against the Eastern Michigan offense, averaging 377 a game and coming off a 59-21 win against Texas State:
“We have to try our best to slow their offense down. We need to create some turnovers. We have to do a great job, offensively, of protecting the ball. The last game last year, we turned it over in the second half and they got a scoop and score that really shifted the momentum of that game.”
[ Hammock, Deveaux chalk up defensive woes to competition level after 63-10 loss at Michigan ]
After allowing 113 points against Wyoming and Michigan, NIU allowed 14 against Maine, although both touchdowns came on long scoring drives. Thomas on what improved for the defense:
“I think the biggest improvement you saw the second half of the Maine game, and really starting the second quarter, was the tackling. Just getting into the flow of that, that’s been a big emphasis ever since Michigan.”
[ Carifio: Plenty of bright spots in Maine game and season for Huskies, but also a lot of ‘buts’ ]
The Huskies have dominated the all-time series, but the Eagles have won the past two games. Hammock said that doesn’t matter.
“That’s irrelevant. That’s in the past. The great thing is we’re a football team just fighting to get better. So last year, we didn’t win a game. So that’s out the window already. What can we do this week to practice great? Attention to detail, study the gameplan. Can we execute at a high level on Saturday is the most important thing.”
[ 'I honestly still don't think I'm winless:' NIU wraps up 0-6 season with loss at Eastern Michigan ]
Thomas on how the team is responding to the 41-33 loss last year to the Eagles, which capped an 0-6 season:
“We have a lot to prove and show, especially because of last year. We don’t look back in the past at all, but we know what we’re coming to do. We know what our mission is.”
Taylor on what the team has to do to contain Eastern Michigan quarterback Ben Bryant, who has thrown for 679 yards and run for another 82:
“I feel it’s very important to get pressure on him ’cause he’s a guy who can run, too. We just want to corral him and get him out of the pocket if we can and get him to throw on the run, which he’s not that good at.”
Hammock on NIU quarterback Rocky Lombardi, who had more than 400 yards of total offense, led the team in rushing and ran for three touchdowns in the 41-14 win against Maine:
“If people start to over-commit to the running game I think his ability to run the ball becomes problematic. We want people to defend the whole field, and we want to use every available person to get that done. And having Rocky’s ability to run the ball is going to create challenges for opponents.”
[ Rocky the Runner? Lombardi gets first career rushing touchdowns, overcomes 2 turnovers in NIU’s win over Maine ]
Hammock on the tough early schedule for the Huskies and how it should help Saturday:
“We have to figure out a way to score one more point than Eastern Michigan. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge. But the great thing about us is we’ve been in situations the first four weeks where we’ve had to play every week. We’ve been in four-quarter football games. We’re battle-tested, and we’re going to be tested Saturday.”
Hammock said he doesn’t really remember specifics about homecoming games when he was a player with the Huskies.
“What I told the players is homecoming is always better when you win. So your only focus should be to win, then you can enjoy homecoming afterward. I think that’s the focus. We’re going to make it about the two teams on the football field.”