Struggling NIU aims for first win

Jay Taft

NIU head coach Joe Novak insists his team is not desperate.

But the 0-3 Huskies have to be getting close.

“I wouldn’t say our backs are against the wall, but we do have to play with a sense of urgency after what’s been happening,” junior wide receiver Matt Simon said during Tuesday’s news conference. “We are 0-3 and it’s getting difficult to handle. And what’s more frustrating is the way we’ve lost these games.”

NIU has been outscored 71-53 on the season, losing the last two games by a total of five points after leading by two scores in each. Last week’s defeat was particularly tough because it came against an Eastern Michigan team that NIU had owned of late, and it set them back in Mid-American Conference play.

“We’re all disappointed after last week, and it’s as frustrating as it gets. We need to win,” said Novak, who looks to improve on his 24-38 road record with a win at Idaho today. “There are so many positive things we’re doing out there, but we’re just not making the plays when they count. At times we’ve been good, but we just haven’t been good enough to win.”

NIU is off to its first 0-3 start since 1999. That was the last Huskie team to finish with a sub-.500 record.

The 2007 team has been decimated by injuries, and enters Saturday’s game with five of its top six defensive tackles on the sidelines, including Rockford Boylan-product Adam Schroeder (torn shoulder ligaments). Running back, Montell Clanton (torn ACL) of Rockford Guilford, is also out for the year.

“When you get injuries, you deal with it,” said Novak, who added he’s dealt with more injuries this year than in any other. “But when you get so many at the same position, you’re in trouble.”

The Idaho hosts are 1-2, after a 20-13 win over Cal Poly sandwiched between losses to No. 1 USC (38-10) and Washington State (45-28). Freshman running back Deonte’ Jackson, almost the same size as Clanton and his predecessor Garrett Wolfe at 5-foot-8, 181 pounds, rushed for 214 yards and had 314 all-purpose yards in the team’s lone victory.

Idaho quarterback Nathan Enderle had three TD passes and rushed for another score last week, and he had the Vandals in front of WSU 14-7 at the end of the first quarter.

But, suffering the same fate as NIU this year, Idaho failed to finish.

“The biggest thing for us right now is that we have to keep confidence in ourselves,” Huskies defensive end Larry English said. “We’ve had three close games, and two that have come down to the wire. We have to finish. We have to, one time, finish a team off when we can.”

College reporter Jay Taft can be reached at 815-987-1384 or jtaft@rrstar.com.

Saturday’s game

Who: NIU (0-3) at Idaho (1-2)

Time: 4 p.m.

Where: Moscow, Idaho

TV/Radio: CSN (tape-delayed at 1:30 a.m. Sunday)/WSCR (670 AM); WRHL (1060 AM); WTJK (1380 AM)