“Toledo is a very, very good football team at home, and has been for a number of years. Not just NIU, but a lot of teams have struggled on the road playing at the Glass Bowl,” Doeren says.
“I think they’re one of the best teams, if not the best team, we’ve played in the league so far. You watch them on film against Ohio State, Boise State, and against Syracuse. In the non-conference schedule, they played extremely well.”
But the Huskies’ boss is just as optimistic – and excited – for the 6 p.m. contest.
Fans can watch the action on ESPN2 or listen to the play-by-play on 670 The Score.
“It’s going to be a great game between two very good football teams,” he said. “Top two scoring offenses in the league … three quarterbacks in the game that are in the top five in passing efficiency … a couple backs in the game that I think are tremendous. It’s going to be a great football game.”
NIU (5-3, 3-1) beat Toledo last year, but is 9-29 against the Rockets all-time.
Even more daunting, perhaps, is that Toledo (5-3, 4-0) leads the series 18-2 when the Huskies visit Ohio.
So it’s “pretty obvious (that) it’s a tough place to play,” Doeren says. And so what?
“They’re very similar to us in the fact that they don’t lose at home very often. We know what we’re up against. We’re very aware of it. Not going to make a big deal out of it. We have to play well; we can’t beat ourselves,” he says.
“Any time you play in a hostile environment, I think that’s why you play football. It’s why you coach football, for games like this. If we want to make it a manageable place, we have to play our best to keep people quiet. The better they play, the worse we play, the more involved their stands and their fans are going to be. We’ve got to control the environment the best that we can and do a better job than last week at playing a four-quarter game.”
Doeren’s players, most of whom have a long history with Toledo, are well aware of the rivalry.
To quarterback Chandler Harnish, the very thought of Toledo puts “bad feelings” in mind along with a sense of excitement.
“There’s no motivation we need from coaches this week outside of just playing Toledo,” Harnish says.
“They’ve played some really great teams; they deserve the hype they’ve gotten so far this year,” he adds. “Coach Doeren told us yesterday at practice – we’re the defending champions. They have to take it from us, and that’s the way we feel about it. We still have some respect to be gained, and we want to prove that to the people.”
Expect the Huskies to feed off that energy, linebacker Pat Schiller says.
“I don’t think I’d have it any other way. Big-time game, winner’s in the driver’s seat, and it’s against our rivals – doesn’t really get much bigger than that,” he says. “But in the grand scheme of things, it’s just another game. So we have to treat it like that. It’s definitely going to be a big one; I’m excited for it.”
Wide receiver Perez Ashford, who hails from Shaker Heights, Ohio, is even more pumped to go home and suit up against players he took on in high school.
“You can feel the tension when you walk into Toledo’s stadium, and our stadium. You can just tell how focused players are and coaches are, how serious you take the week, and just how much it’s talked about through the offseason and the games,” Ashford says. “Definitely a rivalry.”
Ask Doeren about the three-game winning streak the Huskies are riding into Toledo, and he points at the defense.
“We improved on defense, I think. In all three games, obviously not the third quarter last week, but we were out there the whole time. too. I think that was the biggest thing, creating some takeaways,” he says.
“I think our punt team did an extremely good job at Buffalo and got us out of some tough situations. Ryan Neir had a great game, so you saw him improve. Our kickoff coverage units improved in the last three games. But really that’s been the biggest thing.
Schiller’s not surprised.
“I knew what kind of talent we had; I knew what we were capable of doing. I knew that we had players that were capable of doing their tasks and assignments,” he says. “It was just a matter of putting everything together, and players getting the confidence to know they can do it. Once we started going on that winning streak, you saw it get put together. Hopefully we can take that momentum into Toledo.”