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TOLEDO, Ohio – They exited the locker room one by one, a few at a time headed straight for the bus and then sporadically out on the field for a few seconds, the same mystified looks accompanying each Northern Illinois football player and coach.
This wasn’t the same feeling after the Idaho game, a “that wasn’t us” type of attitude. The answers weren’t readily available or easy to point to.
“It’s just hard to say why we didn’t play great,” said offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover.
“I’m not sure exactly why we just didn’t come out the way we did against Western [Michigan],” said defensive end Brandon Bice.
This was a missed opportunity, and the Huskies knew it.
“This was definitely a chance to make a statement,” quarterback Chandler Harnish said.
Listing all that NIU missed out on during Saturday’s 20-19 loss to Toledo would last as long as one of Toledo running back DuJuane Collins’ back-breaking runs. But let’s see if we can sum it all up in a few points.
• A chance to announce to the rest of the MAC West that NIU was ready to not only compete for, but win the division title. Central Michigan, which easily dispatched Western Michigan on Saturday afternoon now has a pretty clear path to the championship.
• A chance to make that competition a two-team race with two divisional victories and start thinking about a bowl bid.
• A chance to say NIU’s previous history at the Glass Bowl matters as much as players and coaches said it mattered before the game.
It’s not only those things, though. The Huskies lost their margin of error in the West. This wasn’t supposed to be an easy game despite what happened to the Rockets last week against Western Michigan, but the general consensus was that NIU’s margin for error would be the road game Nov. 21 at Ohio, not Saturday against the most inconsistent team in the conference.
After Saturday, NIU might lay claim to that inconsistent moniker, but back to the point.
The only person who seemed to have anything close to an answer was NIU coach Jerry Kill, who took the blame for the loss.
“I’ve got to do a better job of coaching,” Kill said. “It’s my responsibility. I’m in charge of them. We didn’t execute very well, and it is what it is. I’m not going to make any excuses.”
As the Huskies headed back to DeKalb, players said they have plenty to think about over the next week. The schedule sets up nicely for a big bounce back, but as they learned Saturday, it won’t just be handed to them because of their potential.
• John Sahly is a sports reporter for the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.