DeKALB – Jerry Kill learned a long time ago to stay the course. If something works, stick with it.
The current Northern Illinois coach said it's been locked into his head since he had a conversation about it years ago with former NIU coach Joe Novak.
On Saturday afternoon, with Novak in attendance, that's exactly what the Huskies did in a 27-10 win over Akron.
In a stadium with winds swirling between 10-20 mph, the Huskies (5-3, 3-1 MAC West) ran the ball from the start and eventually wore the Zips (1-7, 0-4 MAC East) down with 54 runs for 275 yards and no turnovers.
"When you run the ball, and you lean on somebody for four quarters, that physicality can wear you down in the fourth," Kill said.
Akron led 13-10 coming into the fourth quarter but Chad Spann's 28-yard bowling ball touchdown run where he emerged from a pack and then ran away from it was the spark that turned things around.
"That was a heck of a run," Kill said. "The last two weeks he's come out of those piles and he has those strong legs, he's a very strong running back. That, to me, was the play that got us going."
From there, Spann added his 14th touchdown of the season (13th rushing) on a 2-yard run and Nate Palmer added a late 7-yard touchdown run as the Huskies pulled away.
Spann led the way with 125 yards on 21 carries. He credited wide receiver Landon Cox with a great downfield block that freed him up on his first score.
"It was 3rd-and-short and we got the first down and I got some great blocks downfield from the receivers," Spann said of his first touchdown run. "They don't get enough credit for what they do. I got some great blocks and got into the end zone."
Quarterback DeMarcus Grady – starting his second straight game with Chandler Harnish out with an unspecified right knee injury – added another dimension to the running game.
He finished with 109 yards on 20 carries and kept the Zips guessing all game.
"You've got a quarterback that changes things," Akron coach J.D. Brookhart said. "You have to respect the pass but you have to commit to the run and the quarterback run."
Grady was 10-for-18 for 62 yards passing, mainly relying on short throws with the downfield looks so difficult to complete with the swirling winds.
Grady acknowledged that he never got truly comfortable with the touch he had to put on the ball in the situation but Kill remains confident in his quarterback.
"DeMarcus can throw the long ball, I've seen him throw it in practice," Kill said. "But today was a tough day with the wind."
Now the Huskies have a short week to prepare to host Eastern Michigan at 6:30 p.m. Thursday (ESPNU). The Eagles (0-7, 0-4 MAC West) have an even shorter turnaround, coming to DeKalb after playing a 7 p.m. Saturday game at Arkansas.