Huskies start season against Iowa Hawkeyes

James Krause

The days are winding down to the start of NIU’s football season as hit the road to play the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Head Coach Rod Carey said his defense will face a challenge in the traditionally disciplined Iowa offense.

“When you’re playing Iowa, you’re playing a disciplined group that doesn’t beat themselves,” Carey said. “They’re highly talented and well coached, so you have to take those things and you have to meet that. It’s a good test for [the defense]. How can it not be? It’s Iowa.”

The Hawkeyes have gone 143-97 in 19 seasons under Head Coach Kirk Ferentz, the longest tenured coach in college football. Ferentz is tied with Hayden Fry for winningest coach in Iowa’s history.

Carey said the key to the game for both teams will be how they perform on the ground, meaning junior running back Marcus Jones will be a determining factor for the Huskies.

“This game comes down to three things,” Carey said. “Run the ball, stop the run and don’t turn the ball over.”

The defense will face pressure, but for junior linebacker Kyle Pugh, the season opener means it’s finally time to return to the field.

Pugh will be playing his first game since an arm injury last September. He said he and his team have tried to better themselves by creating good habits in the offseason.

“With all the time I had off with my injury, it’s easy to lose all the technique and little things that I had built and developed last season,” Pugh said. “So when I got back, I really had to work to develop those tools again and get back to using those things.”

Pugh will be on a linebacker core that will need to cover junior tight end Noah Fant, an AP preseason first-team All-American choice. Pugh said succeeding will require a team effort.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys,” Pugh said. “We’ve got to be sound on our technique, play with our eyes and play as a unit.”

The team will have an audience for their season opener, playing in Iowa’s 69,250-seat Kinnick Stadium.

Coach Carey said nerves and excitement are emotions he wants to address with new players, especially playing their first college game in front of thousands.

“You always want to address it,” Carey said. “Anytime it’s someone’s first start, they get excited. [They] might have feelings they don’t normally have, but we try to build habits [where] they can fall back on their training in those situations.”

Carey’s first regular season game as NIU head coach was a 30-27 win over the Hawkeyes in 2013. It’s the only win the Huskies own over Iowa in nine all-time meetings.