Hammock addresses must-win victory against Toledo, says team is prepared for cold weather against EMU

By James Krause

DeKALB — The football team will begin its first of two final home games Tuesday when it hosts the Eastern Michigan University Eagles at Huskie Stadium.

Bowl eligibility hopes are still alive for NIU after a 31-28 victory Wednesday over the University of Toledo Rockets in the Huskies’ final road game of the season. Head Coach Thomas Hammock said his team delivered on expectations to play physical against the Mid-American Conference West division preseason favorites.

“They got the message,” Hammock said. “They practiced with the mindset of the game being physical. They were physically and mentally tough. They went into that game and executed at a high level and gave maximum effort.”

Hammock said preparing outdoors in the days leading up to the contest helped make cold and snowy conditions a non-factor for the Huskies. NIU also went into practice with the idea of continuing to prepare for future inclimate weather.

“With young people these days, we try to eliminate all the excuses,” Hammock said. “In the week they might whine and complain until they get to the game and say ‘Oh, it makes sense.’ We’re building that mindset and doing the things necessary in preparation.”

The Huskies offensive line was shifted around due to injuries with Brayden Patton, redshirt junior offensive linemen, starting at center while Nathan Veloz, redshirt senior offensive linemen, started at left guard.

Injuries also opened the way for Logan Zschernitz, first-year offensive linemen, to make his first career start at right guard. Marques Cox, redshirt first-year offensive linemen, said Zschernitz’s performance stood out compared to the rest of the offensive line.

“I think we played a great game,” Cox said. “[Zschernitz], for his first start, played great. We just took things one thing at a time.” 

EMU will arrive at DeKalb with a 5-5 overall record, but only two conference wins on the season. The strength of EMU is in pass efficiency, with senior quarterback Mike Glass III leading all MAC passers in passing yards per game at 248.6.

Hammock pointed to the Eagles’ defense as a potential disruption for the Huskie offense with EMU’s willingness to apply a lot of pressure at the line of scrimmage.

“[Eastern Michigan’s] back seven is really good and really aggressive,” Hammock said. “They have some really athletic players. They’re also not afraid to bring some corners and defensive backs into the box to play the run game.”

The previous three meetings between EMU and NIU have gone into overtime, with NIU winning the two most recent games Oct. 26, 2017 and Sept. 29, 2018. While NIU has yet to play in overtime this season, Hammock said situational drills in the preseason have the team ready for play after four quarters.

“Preparing for overtime is definitely something teams look at during preseason camp,” Hammock said. “You’re [teaching more of] the situation of overtime because the plays aren’t going to change.”

Kickoff for the game is set for 6:30 p.m. The game will also be broadcast live on ESPN2.