NIU goes for 3rd straight victory

By Dan Moran

Even if you are in your fourth year here at NIU, you were still just a high school senior the last time the Huskies met California State-Fullerton.

It has been nearly four full years since the Huskies beat the Titans 20-13 in California Bowl III. With just about all of the players from either of those teams having departed, you can just about throw anything resembling a rivalry out the window.

What we have now is the modern-day Cal State-Fullerton Titans (3-4-0) heading into DeKalb Saturday for a 1:05 p.m. date with the Pettibone-era NIU Huskies (3-2-1).

The weather for Saturday’s game is expected to be partly sunny with a high in the 50s. Not exactly California-like, but it is more in line with what you call football weather.

The game marks the end of a three-game Huskie homestand which thus far has seen NIU notch wins over Toledo and Southwest Missouri State.

Cal State is coming off a win, having downed Nevada-Las Vegas 28-14 a week ago. But before that, the Titans suffered the second-worst loss in the 18-year history of its football program when the Florida Gators thumped them 65-0.

In fact, in a season reminiscent of NIU’s 1986 campaign, the Titans have been met with overwhelming losses to Hawaii, Louisiana State and San Jose State. Head coach Gene Murphy said playing those schools was not a pipe dream as much as a wallet-fattener.

“For us to compete with LSU and Florida is unrealistic,” Murphy said. “We played those games for the guarantee (money).”

So now the Titans are in with a team more their size. The Cal State offense works out of a pro-set and likes to run the ball with senior tailback Eric Franklin (4.5 yards per carry) and throw the ball with senior quarterback Ronnie Barber (five touchdown passes).

Just your basic offense, right? Wrong. Just ask Pettibone.

“I’ll tell you what they like to do, what to watch out for,” Pettibone said at Monday’s Huskie Club luncheon. “They have a lot of trick plays. They have fake punts, fake field goals—they have one field goal formation where they have a guy running off the field, like he’s the 12th man trying to beat the snap, and then he goes out for a pass.”

This year, Murphy has had a punter throwing a 21-yard pass out of punt formation, quarterback Barber catching a 34-yard touchdown pass from a fourth-string QB lining up as a tailback and his kickoff team attempting an across-the-field lateral against Florida.

Of course, the trickery against the Gators backfired—the ball went out of the Titan endzone for a safety. But Pettibone said his special teams—which saw a fake-punt go for a first down against Southwest Missouri—have worked on keeping its eyes open during the practice week.

When the Huskies have the ball, look for the NIU wishbone to have a chance for success against the Titans’ 3-4 defense. When Pettibone was asked Monday if Cal State had faced a wishbone team this year, Pettibone raised his index finger and said with a smile, “No, they have not.”

Murphy said Pettibone may have a basis for his optimism, since teams that do not normally play the wishbone have trouble adapting to it in one week of practice.

“Accessing the film we’ve seen, it’s obvious they are strong at the skill positions and have a lot of team speed,” Murphy said. “Offensively, we don’t see any wishbone teams out here, so that makes this a whole week of totally different preparation.”