Mental toughness. Conditioning. Tempo. Depth.
NIU football coach Dave Doeren can tick off plenty of reasons why his Huskies are finding fourth-quarter success this fall, even if he’d rather seal the deal earlier.
“Last year, we had five come-from-behinds, and this year, we have three. I’d love to stop doing that,” Doeren says, “but if that’s what we have to do to win, I don’t care. We’ll do it.”
One week after the latest of those thrilling, come-from-behind victory over Ball State on the road, the NIU Huskies football team returns to friendly territory Saturday to celebrate the 106th Homecoming.
Quarterback Jordan Lynch, who ranks among the nation’s Top 10 in total offense, and his teammates look to extend three streaks this weekend: The Huskies (5-1, 2-0 MAC) have won five straight games, own an 18-game home win streak and are in possession of bragging rights for the last 10 Mid-American Conference games.
Meanwhile, Buffalo wings its way to DeKalb with revenge on its mind.
Last year, Northern Illinois avoided overtime in New York when the Buffalo kicker missed a point-after-touchdown boot that would have tied the game with 14 seconds left on the clock.
Ready for a good scrap? Game time is 2:30 p.m. As always, NIU students are admitted FREE with their NIU OneCard.
Doeren promises fans that neither he nor his team will underestimate the Bulls, who have only “W” this season. Buffalo had Ohio “on the ropes, and Ohio is undefeated … (Buffalo) should have won,” the coach says.
“On film, they sure they don’t like a 1-4 team. They’re a team that has a very a talented roster. When you look at them as an offense, they’ve averaged 225 yards per game rushing, which is second in the MAC as a rushing team. They’ve gone 300 yards rushing three times in the last seven games,” Doeren says.
“I think that says a lot about their commitment to running the football. Their quarterback is similar to ours in how he can run. He can get north and south, and he’s a guy that can run through some people.”
Buffalo also brings “one of the best players that I’ve seen in a long time on the defensive side of the ball,” Doeren says.
“Kahlil Mack, No. 46, is a great football player. He leads the nation in tackles for loss. He’s long-armed. He’s tough. He’s on kickoff coverage. He’s blocking punts on their punt block team,” he adds. “The guy plays football the right way. I really like watching him, but I’m not going to like playing against him.”
Of course, the Huskies are deep with weapons. With a 5-1 overall record, NIU is off to its best start since 2003.
Lynch has claimed three consecutive honors as MAC West Offensive Player of the Week. Defenders Sean Progar and Jimmie Ward and kicker Mathew Sims also have picked up weekly awards from the conference in 2012.
The team, dubbed the “Cardiac Canines” by radio color commentator Mark Lindo, has engineered three fourth-quarter comeback wins this season. Last week in Muncie, the Huskies scored two touchdowns in the last five minutes for a 35-23 win in the battle for the Bronze Stalk.
“We know football isn’t just one half,” linebacker Victor Jacques says. “We know it is a two-half, four-quarter game, so we know we just have to go out there with the goal in mind of what we need to accomplish and just go out there and finish it through all four quarters.”
Doeren isn’t sure how the come-from-behind wins impact his team mentally.
“I wish I could put a finger on it. I just think we have a lot of confidence as coaches and as players. Our resolve. The fact that we don’t quit. We don’t flinch. We don’t panic,” he says.
“A lot of our players have a chip on their shoulder, and as soon you put them in a corner, you are going to them chest-out and chin-up, ready to go,” he adds. “We put them in those situations as much as we can as a staff in the offseason, mentally and physically, with our offseason program. It’s definitely paying dividends. The leadership on our tem helps. We’ve got some tremendous leaders that aren’t just seniors, but are juniors. Our junior class is really special right now.”
Tailback Akeem Daniels agrees.
“I think it all starts in the offseason,” Daniels says. “We are running sprints, and instead of people letting up before the line, we are actually finishing through the line. When we think we can bench-press five reps, we try and get six and go ahead and get that sixth rep.”
His teammates on the offensive side of the ball are confident players, he adds.
“We practice 100-plus plays each day, and you know we do a lot to get better,” he says. “When things don’t go our way, we don’t set there and pout or get down on ourselves. We always find a way to get back up.”
For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.