There was a time (Sep 14, 2002 to be exact) where the Huskies went in to Madison and utterly dominated the #18 ranked Wisconsin Badgers. QB Brooks Bollinger was sacked 10 times. The Huskies outgained Wisconsin 455-275.
"It's too bad, it's really too bad," NIU head coach Joe Novak said. "They (NIU) played their butts off. As far as I'm concerned, they won the football game."
Huskie RB Michael Turner burned the Badgers on 34 carries for 160 and 2 TDs on the ground, but it wasn't enough. The refs stepped in and made it a game of their own penalizing the Huskies for holding on a punting play and then two pass interference calls, resulting in a short run to the end-zone for Bollinger to put the Wisconsin ahead for the final 24-21 score.
"I didn't like them," Novak said of the calls. "For a team not penalized very often, we sure went the wrong way a lot of the time. We got it (the punt) out of there! A sixty-yard punt and we get called for holding. I've been in this for 34 years and I've never seen that."
"I'm not going to talk about the officiating," Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak said. "I never criticize officials because simply they are closer than I am, so I don't know. But there were some awful bad timing on some of those penalties."
You can blame the referees all you want, but the Huskies would have had this game if they didn't turn the ball over 4 times. QB Josh Haldi threw two interceptions and also fumbled the ball. The always-reliable WR Dan Sheldon even fumbled the ball on a reverse.
Things get eerie
I see a lot of similarities between the 2002 team and this team we have right now. Just bear with me. QB Josh Haldi was only a sophomore at the time in his first year starting. Current Huskie QB Chandler Harnish is a sophomore as well and already has a year of experience over Haldi!
RB Thomas Hammock went out with a heart issue and Michael Turner stepped in and obviously performed admirably. Just like NG Mike Krause this year. Look for NG Brian Lawson to step up big in his position.
WR Sam Hurd was only a true freshman that year, but came through in the clutch grabbing 8 balls for 161 yds. This year we have WRs Martel Moore and Perez Ashford looking to step in and make plays as only true freshmen.
In 2001, we had only 6 wins and a team of nobodies & walk-ons out to prove the world wrong.
Just look at the previous unknowns that stepped up that year: Dan Sheldon, TE Matt Dunker, DE Travis Moore. Hell, Michael Turner wasn't even proven at the time:
"Mike's pretty good," Novak added. "He had 983 yards as a freshman back up. I asked him this week how big his shoulders were because he had to carry the load. He wants the ball, you can't tell me hat there isn't a tailback in the country that doesn't want the ball."
This is a great quote looking at how things have turned out. "He's pretty good." Good old Joe Novak.
Keys to the game
- Bring the heat. No matter how many times Wisconsin wants to run the ball, they'll be forced to throw the ball eventually. Let's make Phillips look like a freshman and Tolzein look like his minimal experience.
- Hold on to the ball. This is how a lot of games are won and lost. In 2002, a big reason the Badgers won was because they only turned the ball over 1 time and the Huskies turning it over 4x. How did Villanova upset Temple last night? A 5-1 turnover ratio! This is essential for a young team.
Establish the run. This always has been and will continue to be the bread and butter of NIU's offense. While we may not have a Michael Turner on our roster, somebody will have to step up big if we want to win this game.
- Don't get rattled. Harnish and Me'co Brown can't play like the freshmen they were last year. The young guys can't have nerves in this game. They shouldn't, as they have been impressing the coaches all throughout camp. But that's camp and this is gameday. There's a big difference.
Jerry Burnes' prediction:
This game could get really ugly, really fast. Camp Randall isn't a pretty place to play in. For the Huskies who did not play in Ann Arbor or Columbus, this will be the most hostile environment they've every played in. On top of that the Badgers are a solid team with depth. John Clay is a semi-truck at running back and Nick Toon will be stretching out the Huskie DBs. Dustin Sherer will likely not be running the offense in his senior season and premiere back P.J. Hill has graduated. The O-line is nasty and big and the defense is prototypical of the Big 10. NIU will need to be in mid-season form right away. Badgers 31, Huskies 13.
Mike Breese's prediction:
NIU can't stop Wisconsin's running game, but then start to stack the box. The Tolzein/Phillips experiment at QB fails and they both are unable to make any plays through the air. NIU to chug out yards on the ground and on short to medium passes. Still won't be enough to top the Badgers in this game. NIU 18, Wisconsin 21.