With the long break and unfamiliar locale, New Year’s Day bowl game preparation confounds many a coach. This is Northern Illinois first BCS bowl, but it has its routine down from its four previous bowl trips in the past four years.
“In the beginning of the bowl practices, we started developing the young guys a little bit, let the older players who play a lot get some rest, get their legs back and let those young guys develop so we can keep the program going the way we want it to be,” redshirt junior offensive guard Jared Volk said. “Once it gets closer to game time, when the older guys’ legs are back, we can go full go for practice and everything.”
Volk said this leaves the starters feeling almost as they do at the start of the season.
“You’ve got to break it up into two parts,” NIU coach Rod Carey said. “The first part is developmental. You’ve got to finish up your finals. You’ve got to let them be students, student-athletes. The second part is you’ve got to get your game plan in, practice it, then you’ve got to get down to the bowl and rehearse it.”
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Ah, the game plan. How much bigger does that get for bowl games?
“That’s a trap for coaches, isn’t it?” said Carey, the offensive coordinator this season before Dave Doeren took the head coaching job at North Carolina State. “Coaches love to draw pictures. I’m the worst at it. We get too much time, we draw a lot of pictures.
“But what you do is strip it back,” he continued. “You can only run 75-80 plays in a game. So if you’ve got 230 on your call sheet, that’s not too good, is it? Look at this,” [he pulled out a laminated sheet about the size of a big placemat, covered with plays] “we’ve got to get that thing, stripped down. It’s too big.”
Senior wide receiver Martel Moore has caught 71 passes for 1,054 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Quarterback Jordan Lynch insists whenever NIU needed a big play this season, Moore came up with it.
Moore might be one of the few wide receivers in the nation with those numbers who is more valued as a blocker.
The Huskies run the ball about 55 times per game and work the edges. Though Moore said his high school, San Antonio Earl Warren, didn’t throw the ball often, he knew he’d need to learn to block better at Northern.
“Coming into college, the first thing they told me if I don’t block, I’m not going to play,” Moore said. “I’m not going to get a catch.”
SUN AND FUN
“The weather” was the consensus pick for the best nonfootball part of the Orange Bowl experience by NIU players, although the beach outing with the Jet Skis got good reviews.
The contrast of 75 degree South Florida with 23 degrees and snowing in DeKalb, Ill., however, won the day.