Rested Huskies look to capitalize on long break

By Sean Ostruszka

Every new football season brings a rhythm.

The players and coaches all get into routines of practices, meetings and Saturday games.

But when NIU (2-3 overall, 1-1 MAC) takes the field against Eastern Michigan (3-3, 2-1) for the 99th Annual Homecoming game at 3:05 p.m. Saturday at Huskie Stadium, it will have been 10 days since its last game.

NIU coach Joe Novak knows the importance of routines. He knows how a break can throw players off. But instead of worrying about what might happen, Novak has welcomed the break.

“These past 10 days have been a bit of a break in the season,” Novak said. “I think it gives the team a chance to freshen up a bit and also a few extra days to prepare.”

Coming off a 38-27 victory over Miami-Ohio, the players have also enjoyed the break.

But despite having three extra days to rest, they haven’t gotten much of it.

Players have been busy practicing and preparing, and when they weren’t at practice Saturday, the team was hosting a car wash to raise money for Hurricane Katrina victims.

While players have kept busy, coaches have done the same.

Novak expects to see an EMU offense that’s similar to Northwestern and a defense that has become more sound in its second year under Jeff Genyk.

“[EMU] has a lot of athleticism on the defensive side of the ball,” Novak said. “They’ve had some good wins so far this year, and have good momentum coming into Saturday.”

One area NIU has an edge in is the ground game.

Matt Bohnet leads the Eagles rushing attack averaging 42.8 yards a game – or 1.8 yards less than NIU’s No. 2 rusher AJ Harris. And the Huskies top back, Garrett Wolfe, is seventh in the nation with 703 yards.

EMU’s rushing woes aren’t just on offense. The Eagles are the worst in the MAC at stopping the run, and the last time these two teams met, Wolfe set a NIU single-game record with 325 yards.

“We just have to do what we do best and that’s run the football,” Novak said. “We will watch the tapes of what other teams did against them but we are going to stick to the things that we do well.”

From day one, Novak stressed the goal of a MAC championship. The loss to Akron had many people doubting that goal, but last week’s win has renewed hope. It’s going to come down to games like Saturday’s to determine how NIU will finish up.

“We need to win this game,” Novak said. “It would be a lot harder to win the division with two losses, but you never know what’s going to happen.”