NIU returns from bye against flashy Kent State


Courtesy of CMU Athletics

Redshirt senior wide reciever Tyrice Richie escapes a Central Michigan defender in NIU’s 39-38 victory against CMU in Mount Pleasant, Michigan on Oct. 23.

By James Krause

  • Huskies return from 10-day brake with meeting versus Golden Flashes
  • Mid-week ‘MACtion’ returns with meeting of conference leaders
  • NIU looks to contain high tempo offense and dual-threat quarterback of Kent State

DeKALB — After an extended week of preparation, the Huskies transition to their mid-week schedule with a road meeting Wednesday at 6 p.m. CT against the Kent State University Golden Flashes.

NIU, now at 6-2 overall and 4-0 in conference play, has a 10-day break after a comeback victory over the Central Michigan University Chippewas 39-38 last Saturday. Head coach Thomas Hammock said the extra time is important to giving players a chance to regroup before the final leg of their schedule. 

“This bye week is critically important for us,” Hammock said. “We played a lot of four quarter games. Our kids have poured a lot into this season and into their training. We’ve been at it since June 1. Giving them this time to recover mentally and physically is important, along with getting them to work on academics.”

The rest of NIU’s schedule will be played in mid-week primetime slots against Mid-American Conference opponents. The switch to ‘MACtion’ will present new challenges to players like redshirt junior tight end Miles Joiner, who transferred  from Youngstown State University.

“I’m excited to learn and make the adjustment,” Joiner said. “I’ve never played in this conference, so I look forward to these challenges ahead. I think we’ll adjust just fine to the schedule.” 

The MAC West-leading Huskies will travel to Ohio to face the MAC East-leading Golden Flashes that sit at 4-4 overall and 3-1 against conference foes. NIU will have their stamina tested against one of the country’s highest tempo teams, with Kent State sitting 10th nationally in plays per game. 

“It’s definitely a stressor,” redshirt junior linebacker Dillon Thomas said. “It’s going to be a different scheme or experience in terms of what we’ve seen so far this year. Our coaches have already started working with us on that during the bye week.”

Kent State’s offense is led by the dual-threat attack of graduate student quarterback Dustin Crum. Crum has nine passing touchdowns, has 368 yards rushing, and leads the team in rushing touchdowns with six. Hammock said the balanced attack of the Golden Flashes that Crum leads is what separates them from other up-tempo teams.

“We have to try and simulate that as best we can in practice,” Hammock said. “They have a variety of plays they can run. It’s not like most no-huddle teams that run a zone scheme. These guys have a plethora of plays and a ton of skill that can attack you in many different areas.”

NIU, to their credit, is coming off their strongest offensive performance of their conference schedule. Junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi won MAC West Offensive Player of the Week honors behind 348 passing yards and three touchdown throws. COVID-freshman running back Jay Ducker ran for 183 yards in his first game as a starter, a role he’s expected to carry into Wednesday night.

Hammock will meet Kent State head coach Sean Lewis for the first time as opposing coaches, but the history between the two goes back years. Hammock was a graduate assistant at the University of Wisconsin when Lewis played tight end for the Badgers in 2016.

Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT Wednesday at Dix Stadium in Kent, Ohio. The broadcast will be carried nationally on ESPN2.