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Unusual bowl circumstances

The Northern Illinois football team gathers to sing the school’s fight song Thursday during preparations for Saturday’s Humanitarian Bowl against Fresno State.
The Northern Illinois football team gathers to sing the school’s fight song Thursday during preparations for Saturday’s Humanitarian Bowl against Fresno State.

BOISE, Idaho – This year's bowl game is different for a number of reasons for Northern Illinois, but a major difference has been the date and how that has affected NIU's preparation.

The previous two seasons, the Huskies were able to get in the full 15 allowable bowl practices for either a late December game such as 2008's Independence Bowl or an early January game such as the 2010 International Bowl.

With the Humanitarian Bowl on Saturday against Fresno State, that did major changes to the team's approach from previous seasons.

"It was a quicker turnaround, so we just treated it like a bye week," defensive end Jake Coffman said at Thursday's news conference at Bronco Stadium. "It's just business as usual. It was pretty smooth from the MAC title game until now."

In the past, NIU used the bowl practice to not only prepare for the game but get a serious look at several young players to prepare for the next season.

"That, to me, is a different season, so we treated it like a spring ball situation," interim head coach Tom Matukewicz. "With the early bowl this week, we treated it like we had an off week and a game week. Right or wrong, that was the decision we made."

Matukewicz will be working alongside offensive coordinator Rob Reeves and defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel, both in their first games as coordinators for the Huskies after Matt Limegrover and Tracy Claeys left for Minnesota.

Matukewciz was asked about how playcalling will work on Saturday.

"I basically said this: 'OK, offense, you get in a room, come up with a plan.' And it's just like my wife and I when we got married. I said, 'Hey, if it's a girl, you name her. But I've got veto rights,' " Matukewicz said.

The NIU interim head coach added he might call a play or two on defense.

Not the same: Although NIU and Fresno St. have a common opponent this season in Illinois, Matukewicz said there wasn't a whole lot to get out of that because the Illinois game was in mid-September for NIU and the Bulldogs didn't play the Fighting Illini until Dec. 3.

"You would say that, but the problem was that was 10 games ago," he said. "I don't think our team is the same, I don't think Illinois is the same. A little later on in the year [Fresno St.] played Idaho, which played Western Michigan, who we played. So you kind of look at some of the matchups player-wise how they did against Western Michigan."

Most of the players and coaches have said nothing but great things about the host city, with most of the compliments coming on either the scenery or the food.

"That prime rib last night was big-time," Fresno State coach Pat Hill remarked, which prompted this deadpan response from Bulldogs defensive end Chris Carter.

"I think I had about three of those," he said.

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