DeKALB – With the MAC West and a bowl berth already locked up, the NIU football team will wrap up the regular season by hosting Western Michigan at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Huskie Stadium.
The game will be on ESPN2.
Western Michigan (6-5, 3-4) already is bowl eligible, while the Huskies (8-3, 6-1) will look to pick up a third straight win before facing either Miami or Kent State in the MAC title game Dec. 4 in Detroit.
Scouting the Broncos
The Broncos have lost all four games against MAC West foes this year while the Huskies are 4-0 in the division.
Kaleb Eleby has run the offense well, throwing for 2,777 yards, and he leads the league in passing yards. He’s completed 62.4% of his passes with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions.
“He’s an elite arm talent. He can make every throw,” NIU coach Thomas Hammock said. “They run a great system that caters toward him and his ability to put the ball in spots for his receivers to make plays.”
Skyy Moore already has gone over 1,000 yards this season, the only receiver in the MAC to do so. His 79 reception also is a MAC-best. NIU is seventh in the league, averaging 225.7 yards allowed through the air per game. The team’s one forced interception is last in the league.
Three Storylines to Watch
NIU hoping to go from 0-6 to 6-0
NIU’s schedule this year featured a rematch against every team that beat them last year – the five MAC West teams plus Buffalo.
After the 0-6 mark last season, they have won each of those games and can go for the clean sweep Tuesday against the Broncos.
“To say that you have an opportunity to beat every team that beat you the year before, I think that’s a big thing,” Hammock said. “We have the opportunity to do that on Tuesday. What an achievement it would be to be able to say in less than a year you completely flipped the script on what happened to you a year ago. How does that happen? I think it takes unique individuals. It takes people that are focused and determined and work hard and have grit. It takes belief of guys working together as a team. And we have a lot of belief in that locker room.”
Tight end Liam Soraghan said to complete the accomplishment would mean a lot to the team.
“We play a lot of these teams that returned a lot of their players as we returned a lot of ours. This week is important for us. Even though we clinched up the West, we’re coming out and want to win this game more than everything ever.”
Compete team is, well, competing
Hammock has praised his compete team effusively this season and again took the opportunity to talk about what they’ve meant to the Huskies’ success in getting the team prepared.
“If you are not prepared to go out there and compete at a high level you will get embarrassed by our compete team,” Hammock said. “Guys have given us a tremendous effort, given us tremendous looks, and that has really helped us play the type of football we want to play.”
He said quarterback Jeff Lomax, in particular, has been competing at a high level.
“There have been games where I thought he might have been better than the opposing quarterback we played,” Hammock said. “He gives great looks. Braxton Chapman and Erin Collins, they give us a great look from a physicality standpoint.”
He went on to list more than a dozen players from all over the field that have had an impact, calling them the future of the program.
But he also said juniors like Collins and Chapman have continually impressed. Especially Collins, who was a big part of the offense last year but has just six carries in four games this year.
“He’s been fantastic,” Hammock said. “His attitude and the way he’s gone about his work, I tell them all the time he’s going to be successful in life. Braxton Chapman is going to be successful in life. I told them team that in a team meeting. A lot of times how you handle adversity is how you’re going to be successful. And Erin is a guy who played for us last year, not playing as much this year. All he’s done is put the work in to make our team better. And you can’t come up with a more unselfish example of a teammate.”
Putting away the competition
The Huskies were up 14 at Buffalo last week with the ball looking to go up three scores in the third quarter. But quarterback Rocky Lombardi turned the ball over and Buffalo ended up tying the game and forcing overtime.
“There are times we could put away teams, and we haven’t,” tight end Liam Soraghan said. “That’s the focus on the offensive end. We can hang around in these games, but in the end I think we need to finish and play a complete game. We kind of a blank here and there, but we need to play a whole, complete game.”
Pulse of the Fans
It seems like the main goal would be to make sure the Huskies escape Tuesday healthy for the MAC title game. But the players and Hammock have talked very highly about what a win would mean – going 6-0 against the teams that forced the Huskies’ 0-6 record last year. Hammock obviously is a very competitive coach but also has shown a pragmatic side at times. It will be interesting to see what wins out Tuesday.
NIU 31, Western Michigan 30