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Preview: NIU looks to be more physical than Toledo

DeKALB — The Northern Illinois football team got punched in the mouth against Central Michigan, and the Huskies don't want it to happen again when they play Toledo in the Glass Bowl Wednesday.

Watching the game film back after the 48-10 loss to the Chippewas, redshirt senior offensive lineman Jordan Steckler said that the team had to embrace and grow from the pain of being pushed around in the Huskies' largest MAC loss, (38 points) since 2007's 70-21 loss to Toledo.

“You’ve got to let it hurt," Steckler said at Thursday's press conference. "We watched it all together like every group did. As an o-line, we all watched it and we talked over what the critical mistakes were and major theme as to why we performed poorly, and you’ve got to let it hurt.”

Hammock is hopeful several more days of rest will benefit his team, as the loss to the Chippewas was nine days before Wednesday's kickoff, the Huskies' first dose of weeknight MACtion of the season.

“They played physical and they knocked us back and I wish I could say I saw that coming, but I didn’t," coach Thomas Hammock said. "It’s something we learn from. We’ve been able to have some physical practices the last couple days, which has been good.”

Hindering the possibility of being the more physical team is the Huskies (3-6, 2-3 MAC) will be missing more players on the offensive line for the contest against Toledo (6-3, 3-2).

Starting center C.J. Perez was in a walking boot and riding a scooter for assistance at practice Thursday and was one of several Huskies banged up at the practice.

Asked if he could confirm if Perez would be done for the year, Hammock said “I can’t confirm that, no."

One lineman who figures to see some time with Perez banged up is true freshman Logan Zschernitz, who took repetitions in practice at right guard.

Setting the tone on the line is a focus for the Huskies now more than ever heading into Toledo after rushing for only 22 yards against the Chips.

"We looked at watching film and we flinched," Steckler said. "We got hit early, and made some critical mistakes and we never bounced back. The message this week is to just be physical and respond better.”

Offensive line coach Daryl Agpalsa touted the need for physical practices after the line's poor showing against Central Michigan.

“You’ve got to get punched in the face a little bit to wake up," Agpalsa said. "I think they’re woken up and I think they’re excited.”

Quarterback Ross Bowers went into the game on NIU's third drive after the Huskies had fallen behind 14-0 in the CMU loss and went on to throw interceptions on three consecutive possessions in the second half.

The Huskie defense yielded 615 yards of offense to the Chippewas, 327 rushing alone.

“Most of it was just technique issues which is very fixable, but it just comes down to us being able to look at the corrections honestly and look at the mistakes honestly and be able to make corrections off it," outside linebacker Nick Rattin said.

The Rockets' defensive strength in recent years has often been along its defensive line, and that hasn't changed in 2019.

“They’re a good group," Steckler said. "They’re real solid, consistent defensive line. You have to continue to watch them. They do some things up front that we’ll have to be ready for.”

Hammock was optimistic about the extra game between games would benefit Bowers specifically.

“That was a tough situation, not being cleared until Friday and having practice for two weeks," Hammock said. "And then to throw him out there in a situation where we got to throw the ball and they were pinning their ears back. I’ve seen him a lot more comfortable the past couple days at practice, looking more like himself. It’s always a tough deal anytime you’re dealing with injuries of the head nature. Everybody responds differently at different times.”

The Huskies are treating the final three games as another chance to keep young players engaged and testing new faces ins spots to see how they responded. Hammock pointed out players like wide receivers Fabian McCray, Messiah Travis and linebacker Tristan Tewes as a few players who he expects he can insert to see how they perform.

“For our young players, dealing with adversity, being able to handle the adversity of our season and where we’re at and go out there and play a game, I love MACtion. It’s primetime football.” Hammock said.

Toledo has freshman quarterback Carter Bradley pencilled in atop its depth chart, but Eli Peters was the quarterback last week in a 35-33 Toledo win over Kent State. Mitchell Guadagni, who started the year as the signal-caller, was injured.

The Rockets have multiple weapons at running back, as Bryant Koback ran for 67 yards before getting banged up against the Golden Flashes and backup Shakif Seymour ran for 175 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Candle did not have an update on Koback in his weekly press conference and did not say who would start at quarterback against the Huskies.

The Toledo-NIU matchup has felt like a rivalry game without the title or trophy, especially on the NIU side. Hammock noted that when the Huskies defeated Toledo back in 2005 when he was running backs coach for the Huskies, it was a big deal at the time. NIU hadn't beaten Toledo since 1989.

“It’s a big game because for a long time, NIU didn’t beat Toledo," Hammock said. "That was the program that we were trying to emulate as we were trying to establish ourselves as a program."

The Huskies have since beaten Toledo eight of the last 13 seasons.

“They have a proud locker room there and team that obviously holds our locker room in high regard as to the amount of respect that is reciprocated back and forth between the two programs because this is their (rivalry) game," Toledo coach Jason Candle said. "This is the one that means the most to them. They’ve made that known and our guys understand that.”

A loss would put the Huskies out of bowl game contention.

Series history: Toledo leads the all-time series 31-15.

Fast fact: Jack Heflin had 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in a 38-15 NIU home win over Toledo last year. Toledo is 5-0 at home.

Prediction: Toledo 28, NIU 17

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