NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish will start against Illinois.
Harnish, who has started a combined 18 games in 2008 and 2009, was on the sidelines during NIU’s season opener loss against Iowa State (1-1). It was the Huskies’ first attempt to defeat a BCS opponent since beating Purdue 28-21 last year.
NIU upsets Purdue - September 19th, 2009 (via nathandm1917)
Harnish started that game. NIU placed quarterback DeMarcus Grady started against Iowa State.
Grady started five games prior to the 2010 season, and was 5-0 as a starter. Grady completed 32-of-50 passes (62-percent), for 335 total yards (67 yards per game) in these games. He threw for four touchdowns compared to two interceptions, and proved to be a threat on the ground – rushing for 325 yards on 52 carries (6.25 yards per carry).
But Grady couldn’t maintain that level against Iowa State. The redshirt-junior completed 14-of-29 passes for 93 yards and three interceptions against the Cyclones. The only time Grady found the endzone was on a one-yard rush.
"DeMarcus (Grady) has done well at camp," said NIU offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover. "Game wise, it just didn’t carry over."
The Grady Project (via GFORCE)
Limegrover said the battle for the Huskies’ starting quarterback position was the "closest competition" he’s ever seen at any position. Furthermore, the coaching staff was concerned with Harnish’s durability; the quarterback missed spring practices due to a knee injury. This is why Grady got the nod.
Coming into its second game, Limegrover said NIU (1-1) wanted the quarterback who would make the least mistakes and provide the best chance to score points on the field. That’s why Harnish was put under center.
Given a chance, Harnish wanted to make a statement.
"I definitely felt like I wanted to prove myself again," said the Bluffton, Indiana native. "I don’t feel like anyone’s looking over my shoulder now."
Harnish completed 14-of-25 passes for 174 yards against North Dakota (0-2). While Harnish did make a mistake, an interception that was returned for a touchdown, he threw NIU’s first passing touchdown of the season. The quarterback also showcased the health of his knee, as he carried the ball 21 times for 178 yards and a touchdown.
Furthermore, Harnish proved his durability. On Sunday, Limegrover ran his players for mental mistakes. Halfway through Harnish’s laps the coach joked with the quarterback that he ran over 178 yards again. Harnish told his coach he was ready to go out and play the game again.
The quarterback now feels a sense of comfort where before he questioned himself and the health of his body.
"It was a natural feeling for me. Now I kind of have a renewed love for football," said Harnish of being back on the field. "This week I’m going to feel a lot more confident and comfortable."
NIU will need Harnish feeling confident to beat Illinois (1-1). Last year, Harnish completed 15-of-26 passes (58-percent) for 174 yards, with a touchdown and interception against Purdue. The quarterback also rushed for 44 yards on 11 carries.
The starting quarterback aims to hit 70-percent of his passes this season. Harnish believes if he’s close competition percentage the Huskies will have a good chance of beating the Illini.
"I don’t look at it completely as a numbers game," Harnish said. "I feel like if we’re close to that number though we’ll have a great chance to win."