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For the second time this fall, one of college football’s hottest quarterbacks is coming to Huskie Stadium.
In NIU’s Sept. 21 home opener, Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo and his Panthers briskly scored 20 points before many Huskie fans had found their seats. NIU ultimately prevailed, of course, going 43-19 the rest of the way.
Now it’s Keith Wenning’s turn to try to snap the longest home stadium winning streak in the nation when the 9-1 Ball State Cardinals come to play at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13.
Like NIU’s spectacular Jordan Lynch, the Ball State quarterback is among the 10 finalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. Wenning has completed 234 passes this season for 3,164 yards and 27 touchdowns. It’s his second consecutive 3,000-yard season, already surpassing last year’s total of 3,095.
Call Huskie boss Rod Carey impressed.
“His footwork is tremendous. You throw the ball with your feet first, and his feet are always in a good position. He has really good chemistry with his wide receivers,” Carey said.
“He’s a pocket guy but he’s running it a little bit more now. I think (this week) he had a couple where he kept it around the end, (but) he looks to throw first,” Carey added. “You have that ‘dual-threat’ label now and the ‘pro-style’ label; he’s probably more in the pro style than he is anything else right now. I certainly don’t want to put him in a box because he’s a good football player.”
With so much on the line – a 24-game home-win streak, a 9-0 undefeated record, a national television audience, crunch time in jockeying for bowl games and the long-awaited battle between the Mid-American Conference’s best two teams and, yes, the prize of Detroit to the victor – there’s EVERY reason imaginable to pack the place for front seats to history.
And, as always, all students are admitted FREE with their NIU OneCards.
“I’ll say this: It’s the best team I’ve seen on film right now going into a game on just how they execute their game plan overall,” Carey said.
“They have a taste for winning right now. I think confidence, like I’ve said with 18- to 22-year-olds, is an amazing thing. You get that confidence and, all of a sudden, they’re playing like it. It’s going to be a big challenge, going to be a good night, and I expect a big crowd out there,”
NIU will play the game it knows, Lynch said.
“In the last two or three games we played (against Ball State), they always gave us a great competition, and it went down to the wire in the last few seconds, so I think this rivalry is starting to build up,” the Heisman Trophy hopeful said.
“I don’t think we have to do anything out of the ordinary,” he added. “We just have to be ourselves going into this game, and we have a lot of talent. We just need to focus on this next game without getting too far ahead.”
“Like Jordan said, they’re a great team,” linebacker Michael Santacaterina said. “Two years ago, we had a tough game at home that came down to a penalty call. Last year, they were up at their place; we came back and won. We’re excited about this game, and we’re ready for the challenge.”
The question for Wenning and the offensive line of the Cardinals: Are they ready for NIU defensive tackle Ken Bishop?
Bishop, who won defensive MAC West Player of the Week honors Monday, once again dominated the middle for the NIU defense last week with a career-high nine tackles (1.5 for a loss) to lead all NIU defenders.
The senior also nabbed his first career interception, which he returned 14 yards to the UMass six-yard line after sniffing out the screen and jumping in front of the pass to make the pick.
“His first step is really quick. He uses his post hand really well, and then when he gets his other hand in there, he can shed a block extremely quick. He has good hips so his body can torque, so when he’s shedding a block, his feet can be going one way and his upper body can be going the other,” Carey said.
“When you have that combination and you put it with the way he prepares through the week of watching film and knowing what he’s going to get and being able to expect certain things versus certain things, then you have a real dangerous player.”
“I attribute it to my practice habits really,” Bishop said, “by being able to get off blocks, run to the ball and play with an aggressive attitude. I don’t think of it as I’m a D-Tackle, I shouldn’t get this tackle; I think of it as I want to get up field and try to make the play.”
Ball State’s offense is “very aggressive,” he added. “We know they like to throw the ball. They have a good solid offensive line as well as a lot of receivers. They come out and they attack expeditiously, so we’re just going to come out and make sure we’re prepared.”