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Jacobson: Not at its best, NIU still good enough for another win

Published: Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013 11:07 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013 11:08 p.m. CDT

DeKALB – Northern Illinois didn't put together its best performance on Saturday against Akron.

Far from it.

But the Huskies didn't have to as they managed to escape with a 27-20 win.

Far from dominant, Saturday's game was further proof of how far NIU's program has come in the last decade.

The Huskies struggled offensively for much of the first half, failing to score in a quarter of play for first time all season. The offense converted only 1 of 15 third downs and Lynch, usually very accurate, was only 16 of 35.

NIU's defense, a turnover-creating machine through the first five games of the season, generated only one against Akron, a Jimmie Ward interception in the fourth quarter.

It was a similar overall performance to last week's Kent State game, where NIU allowed a kickoff return touchdown and turned the ball over twice.

Those were the games NIU used to lose, the games where NIU played down to its competition. Yet, NIU has shown the ability to pull out victories, keeping its undefeated record and likely remaining in the Top 25 polls for another week.

Winning close games can be contagious, and undoubtedly NIU's confidence is now very high when it comes down to executing in clutch situations. It's an attitude that has been developed since the Jerry Kill era.

Since the start of 2010, the Huskies are 14-5 in games decided by seven points or less.

The win extended NIU's home winning streak to 23 games, a new MAC record, and was the 19th consecutive conference win for the Huskies, tying the mark set by Bowling Green from 1991-93. After next Saturday's game at Central Michigan, that record should be the Huskies' alone.

NIU has become the MAC's premier program and a third consecutive MAC championship would only solidify that status.

Past Huskie greats, including Stacey Robinson, Tim Tyrell, George Bork and Ryan Diem, were in attendance for Saturday's Homecoming victory. They were all part of good Huskie teams in the past.

But after a 6-0 start and with the Huskies likely to be favored in every game for the rest of the regular season, the 2013 team has a chance to be the greatest NIU team ever.

But more than likely, they'll need their best against Ball State and Toledo. If it comes, Purdue and Iowa can tell them from experience what the results will be.

Ross Jacobson is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached via e-mail at rjacobson@shawmedia.com or follow him on Twitter @RossJacobson.

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