Northern Illinois head coach Dave Doeran admits he's looking forward to the history and pageantry of his first trip to West Point when his Huskies face Army Saturday in the Black Knights' home opener at Michie Stadium.
But that also means his game-planning this week involves walking a balance between expressing the respect Northern Illinois (1-1) feels for an opportunity to play at West Point and at the same time keeping the defending Mid-American Conference champions focused within the white lines.
"To be honest with you they're just a team we're trying to beat," said the second-year head coach who was formerly Wisconsin's defensive coordinator. "When you get there and see the pageantry and understand where you're at, it's special, so we're going to have to have blinders on when it comes to playing."
"Whoever we line up against, they're trying to take a win from us and we're trying to take a win from them. That's important to remember when you go there. You can get lost in all that pageantry with the pre-game flyby, the cadets and everything that can be distracting to a football team from its normal game-day environment."
But that's not all that concerns Doeran about visiting Michie. He has not only watched video of San Diego State routing Army 42-7 last week in the Black Knights' opener on the road, he's done his homework. He's aware what happened to another team from the state of Illinois ambushed on the banks of the Hudson River.
A year ago the Black Knights were routed 49-26 in their season opener at Northern Illinois in DeKalb, but a week later for their home opener they surprised a 2-0 Northwestern club out of the Big Ten with a 21-14 victory.
We know last year we obviously came out and played them well in our opener and then the following week they beat Northwestern at home ... It's started out with the same path here. They got beat handily by San Diego State and now they're coming home to play us.
- Northern Illinois head coach Dave Doeran, Terence Davis
"We know last year we obviously came out and played them well in our opener and then the following week they beat Northwestern at home," Doeran said. "It's started out with the same path here. They got beat handily by San Diego State and now they're coming home to play us. We can't fall into that trap. We watched the game against San Diego State and we know they're a better team than that. They turned the ball over a lot."
In addition to Army committing three turnovers with a fumble and two interceptions, drives were stalled when quarterback Trent Steelman and center Will Wilson, who was replacing injured Ryan Powis, had trouble with the exchange. Army is hoping Powis is able to return this week from his non-snapping hand injury, which would allow Wilson to return to right tackle, the job he earned entering fall camp.
One of Army's problems last year and again in this year's opener is getting into scoring position after moving the ball between the 20s. Northern Illinois presents a challenge since the Huskies held Tennessee-Martin, a Football Championship Subdivision school, without a score on three of four trips into the red zone.
Northern Illinois beat Tennessee-Martin last week 35-7 for their 16th straight win at home. The Huskies nearly pulled off an upset of Big Ten school in their opener before falling to Iowa 18-17 in a game played at Soldier Field.
"We took care of the football," Doeran said. "We spread the ball around offensively and were very balanced. Our quarterback played well and defensively we had three takeaways in addition to holding them defensively to one touchdown on four opportunities in the red zone."
Northern Illinois first-year starting quarterback Jordan Lynch is a dual threat who combined for 264 total yards. He carried 11 times for 60 yards and three touchdowns and completed 19 of 25 passes for 214 yards and one TD with one interception. His touchdown runs were 1, 32 and 4 yards and his TD pass was a 7-yarder.
Doeran liked how Lynch, a 6-foot, 216-pound junior, bounced back from the Iowa game when he was the victim of four drops while completing only 6 of 16 passes for 54 yards with no interceptions against Iowa.
"Jordan is a guy who isn't phased by things on gameday," Doeran said.
However, the Huskies may be vulnerable to a pass rush. In addition to last week's interception, he's been sacked five times -- twice by Iowa and three times by Tennessee-Martin. Army sacked San Diego State quarterback Ryan Katz twice for 11 yards despite allowing 443 total yards.
"We have a ton of respect for playing a service academy team," Doeran said. "It's an honor for our football team to have a chance to play at West Point. I haven't been there, but a couple of coaches on my staff have been there and I've heard a lot from them about the pageantry. We're looking forward to playing there."
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