CHICAGO | Things didn’t go as planned for the Northern Illinois football team when they stepped onto the turf at Soldier Field last season.
Wisconsin manhandled the eventual Mid-American Conference champions 49-7, the second of three blemishes on the Huskies’ 11-3 record.
“We played a Rose Bowl team there, so they were pretty good, but we didn’t put our best product on the field,’’ second-year Huskies coach Dave Doeren said. “A little bit of being there again this year is playing better than we did a year ago. There will definitely be a little less of an awe factor for our guys.’’
Doeren expects to learn plenty about his team Saturday when it kicks off the season against Iowa with a 2:30 p.m. game at Chicago’s lakefront stadium.
Like the Hawkeyes, the Huskies enter their season opener with questions.
Northern Illinois’ two most productive skill players from a year ago, quarterback Chandler Harnish and running back Jasmin Hopkins, have graduated after combining for 5,551 yards of offense.
The team’s only returning starting offensive lineman, Logan Pegram, fractured a leg during the first week of fall camp which added to work Doeren and his staff had to do there.
The Huskies do have some experience and most of it is on the defensive side of the ball. Northern Illinois returns 10 players with starting experience, nine from a year ago and a 10th who missed last season after starting in 2010.
To prepare for an Iowa offense which is transitioning to a new coordinator, Greg Davis, Doeren and his staff spent the summer watching tape of Texas games from the 13 seasons Davis worked there to get a feel for what he might attempt to do with the Hawkeyes.
“You look for tendencies, try to get an idea of how he approaches things in certain situations,’’ Doeren said. “With the quarterback they have (James Vandenberg), you look at how they may put things together in the passing game.’’
Doeren, who spent five seasons at Wisconsin including the last three as defensive coordinator before replacing Jerry Kill as the Huskies coach a year ago, likes the chemistry he sees developing on a team which is picked to finish second to Toledo in its division of the Mid-American Conference.
He also likes his quarterback.
Junior Jordan Lynch spent the past three seasons as an understudy to the signal caller who broke 30 Northern Illinois passing records. The 6-foot junior from perennial Chicago Catholic League power Mount Carmel brings an attitude to the field that Doeren appreciates.
“He plays quarterback with a linebacker mentality,’’ Doeren said.
Lynch saw action in the Huskies’ loss to the Badgers last season, completing each of his three pass attempts and rushing five times for 19 yards.
“I’m excited to start,’’ Lynch said. “It’s been my dream ever since I was little. I ran the show all summer. I’ve been in the film room. I’ve learned a lot form Chandler.’’