DeKALB – The effort was there. So was the heart. It was the mind that didn't always follow for Northern Illinois this past Saturday against Wisconsin.
With the Huskies' home-opener against Western Illinois (1-0) set for 6:30 p.m. Saturday, NIU coach Jerry Kill said at Tuesday's weekly news conference that the goal is to cut down on the mental mistakes between now and gametime.
"Our big emphasis this week is play hard and play smart," Kill said. "It's pretty simple. I think we played hard, but I don't know if we played smart the first time."
Kill said he's tried to keep in mind something he heard from Texas coach Mack Brown at a coaching clinic a few years ago that if a team is committing more than 15 mental errors in a game, then the coaches need to cut something out of the gameplan.
"I've tried to remember that," Kill said. "But we're going to make some because we're a young football team. As long as we're not making the same mistake over and over and over you'll be all right."
Sixteen Huskies played in their first-ever college football game against Wisconsin, which the NIU coaches believed contributed to the mental errors committed against the Badgers. Those mistakes didn't really come in the form of penalties, where the Huskies (0-1) had only two for 26 yards, but in blown coverages or misreading a play on both sides of the ball.
But Kill said he was impressed by some of the young players, singling out redshirt freshman nose guard Brian Lawson, freshman defensive end Alan Baxter, freshmen wide receivers Perez Ashford and Martel Moore and sophomore offensive tackle Adam Kiel.
With playing as many young players as NIU did on Saturday, Kill said it's been an adjustment for the coaches who grew used to the veteran squad the Huskies had this past season.
"I think sometimes we get caught up in we had some success last year and we're going to build off that," Kill said. "You move faster than what you have. We have a younger team than what we had a year ago. So sometimes as a coach you're moving faster than the kids can move.
"It's not what you know, it's what they know and what they can do," Kill said. "I think we're still trying to find that out. I think everybody in the country is trying to do that."