DeKALB – Northern Illinois head coach Thomas Hammock burst out with a thunderous laugh and clapped his hands when running back Tre Harbison, in Saturday’s postgame press conference, quietly credited listening to the coaches as the reason for his improved production in Mid-American Conference play on the ground.
Harbison ran for a season-high 158 yards on 31 carries in NIU’s 49-0 win over Akron on Saturday, and now has run for 125 yards a game in four MAC games. Harbison said in no uncertain terms that listening to his coaches was the biggest reason for his recent success.
“Listening to Hammock, doing extra film work and knowing the ins and outs of every single play and the intent of every play and just the small things like that really makes a big difference,” Harbison said. “It’s really nothing physical.”
Harbison’s 30-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was a product of that adjustment.
“A couple runs that we hit today in the walkthrough, it didn’t look good, so I made sure that the backs understood exactly the intent of the play,” Hammock said. “We’ve got to teach them the intent of the play and then give them a chance to go out and execute. We corrected it today in the walkthrough and the -yard touchdown was one of the plays that we corrected earlier today to show the back exactly what we’re looking for.”
Harbison’s focus on the details of every play is paying dividends.
“I just had to buckle down and focus up on the small things,” Harbison said. “When you focus on the small things, it makes a big difference.
The Huskies’ offense has steadily rediscovered the running game that fueled the offense last season.
NIU still is looking to see its yards a run increase; the Huskies are averaging only 3.6 yards a carry, the ninth-best total in the MAC.
The offensive line continues to draw praise from Hammock, and the linemen themselves have noted they’ve come together over the past few weeks. The effects of the improvement are felt in-game when the Huskies establish the downhill running game.
“Obviously, we can’t cover everyone up, so when Tre gets to that second level, and he’s able to go one-on-one with a safety or a backer, and he does put them down, all that guy’s thinking the next play is, ‘Dang, I don’t want to tackle that guy anymore,” center C.J. Perez said.
Several early off-tackle runs for the Zips yielded big gains for Akron running back Brandon Lee. Hammock said the Huskies coached up the defensive ends, who were out of position on the runs, to filter the runs back inside.
“We were able to come off to the sideline, talk to our players and get them in back in position to make those plays,” Hammock said.