Time was when the word “Toledo” thrust anxiety into the heart of every NIU football fan.
And with good reason: The Rockets lead the 46-year series 29-11, owning bragging rights in not only their home Glass Bowl (18-3) but in Huskie Stadium (11-8) as well.
But things change.
NIU has won the last three games against its arch rival, which is 7-3 this season with a Mid-American Conference loss to Ball State, and this Wednesday’s 7 p.m. kickoff finds Rod Carey and Co. at their home away from home: The Road.
The undefeated Huskies have won six road games this fall and have claimed victory in 14 consecutive away contests; both of these records place NIU atop the FBS nation. Meanwhile, the No. 16 Huskies have won 23 consecutive conference games – also an FBS best.
Yet this game is for all the marbles – the Dec. 6 MAC Championship in Detroit – and Carey, naturally, is not letting down his guard.
“They’re a fine football team. We have to go there. It’s going to be a hostile environment. It’s going to be Wednesday. It’s going to be a night game. It’s an 8:00 p.m. (ET) kickoff, so it’s going to be cold,” Carey said. “I’m sure it’s going to be windy, and all of the elements will play a factor into the football game, just like they should when you play outside in November. That’s why we play football outside, not inside.”
Fans can watch the action on ESPN2 or listen to the play-by-play on 670 The Score, WLBK (1360 AM and 98.9 FM) in DeKalb or WTJK (1380 AM) in Janesville, Wis.
Tight end Luke Eakes is willing to dissect NIU’s success as the visiting team.
“We take everything into account when preparing,” Eakes said. “Our coaches explain what we’re getting into really well. They show us pictures of the locker room, we see the field and the stadium before each game, and they show us the atmosphere that we’re going to play in. They do a great job at getting us ready to take the field.”
“We just try to treat it like a business trip,” offensive lineman Ryan Brown added. “As Luke mentioned, our coaches do a great job at preparing us for what we are walking into, so there are no surprises on Saturday. They make sure everything is ready to go.”
It doesn’t seem possible that nearly a week has passed since NIU’s 48-27 thriller over Ball State.
Heisman Trophy hopeful Jordan Lynch dazzled the nation television audience that nigh; the highlight of his game, no doubt, came on a third-and-10 when he evaded a sure sack to stay on his feet and then scrambled to gain a fresh set of downs. Meanwhile, NIU’s defense held Ball State to only three points in the second half of what had been a back-and-forth contest.
“We played a quality opponent in Ball State. What can you say? Their quarterback – that kid is fantastic. Their team is really good, and I really believe to date that that’s the best team we’ve played,” Carey said.
“Offensively, I said what I said after the game and I believe that. We played really well offensively, and for Jordan Lynch to not be in the Heisman conversation, I think people probably fell asleep if they aren’t talking about him. I still stand by that,” he added.
“I’ve said it all along that he is a leader in every way, shape and form on this team. I think that when our team is standing there and he’s on the field offensively and they’re making plays as a unit, that also inspires the defense to do that. It’s not a coincidence, believe me. When our offense is making plays, our defense makes plays. They feed off of each other. You can feel that as games go.”
Carey is not concerned about his team’s ability to ramp up for yet another huge challenge.
“They’ve all been big games. I think our team believes that, too,” he said. “It started with Iowa, went to Idaho, so on and so forth. Each week is the biggest game because it’s the next game. I don’t worry about our guys.”
For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.