DeKALB, Ill. — Looking to get back on track after a 49-7 loss to seventh-ranked Wisconsin, the Northern Illinois football team already had plenty of reason to take the field with intensity Saturday at Brigham Field against Cal Poly.
Then the Huskies got an added motivational boost, and, as luck would have it, from a source who’s likely close to home sentimentally for numerous Mustangs players, coaches and fans.
Before the game, former San Francisco 49ers safety and Pro Football Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott spoke to Huskies players, setting the tone for a 47-30 win.
Lott’s son is a student at Northern Illinois, and Lott is good friends with a prominent Northern Illinois donor, Dennis Barsema.
“The whole week, we were watching videos,” Northern Illinois linebacker Pat Schiller said. “At our team meeting today, I see somebody walk in the door and I’m like, ‘That’s Ronnie Lott, man. Hell, yeah.’
“I think that fired not only me up, but the whole team.”
Huskies coach Dave Doeren was once a grad assistant for two years at Lott’s alma mater, USC.
“I asked Ronnie as a favor if he’d be interested in talking to the guys,” Doeren said. “It just worked out timing-wise where he was coming in to see his son the same time we were playing a home game. The timing couldn’t have been better for what we were preaching during the week.
“To me, he exemplifies the game. The passion he played with, the pride he had, how selfless he was, and how physical he was as a player.”
NIU familiar with triple-option
Northern Illinois entered the game with far more familiarity with the triple-option offense than most of the Mustangs’ early-season foes since the scheme was implemented by Rich Ellerson’s staff before the start of the 2007 season.
When Ellerson departed for the head job at Army after 2008, newly hired head coach Tim Walsh stuck with the triple option, and while hurry-up, spread and shotgun elements have been infused by Walsh’s staff, the base of the offense is still the same.
“I think, defensively, they’re probably happy that they don’t have to play triple-option teams every week,” Walsh said.
Cal Poly rushed for 294 yards and three touchdowns on 59 carries Saturday. It was a similar result to when Northern Illinois opened with a 49-26 win over Ellerson’s Black Knights in Week 1. Ellerson still runs the triple option, and it produced 303 yards and three scores on 63 carries in the season-opening loss to the Huskies.
Also adding to the previous experience against the offense was the fact that Doeren was the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin during the Badgers’ 36-35 overtime win over the Mustangs in 2008, and Huskies offensive line coach Rod Carey was an assistant at Great West Conference rival North Dakota from 2008 through last year.
Only a handful of teams in the nation run the triple option, making the Huskies’ frequency of study for it unusual.
“We played one, so we may as well have played two (triple-option teams),” Schiller quipped. “I’m definitely willing to get back into (playing against) the traditional style of offense.”
Singletary in Illinois
Playing nearly an hour drive west of where his father, Mike Singletary, was a Hall of Fame linebacker for the Chicago Bears, Cal Poly senior defensive end Matt Singletary had two tackles.
Stanford to get X-rays
Cal Poly sophomore backup running back Cole Stanford suffered what was thought to be a back injury during a kickoff, Walsh said.
He was able to stand and leave the field but will need X-rays, with his status for Cal Poly’s next game Oct. 8 at home against Central Oklahoma unsure immediately after the game.