FORT WAYNE – Northern Illinois is no stranger to Purdue coach Darrell Hazell or Boilermakers defensive coordinator Greg Hudson.
That familiarity could help keep the Huskies from becoming the first Mid-American Conference team to beat two Big Ten opponents in a season.
NIU (3-0), which comes to West Lafayette on Saturday with nine votes in the Associated Press Top-25 poll, is a familiar foe for Hazell. The current Purdue coach spent the last two seasons at fellow MAC program Kent State.
The teams competed for the 2012 conference championship, with the Golden Flashes at No. 17 and the Huskies at No. 21 entering the matchup. NIU won 44-37 in double overtime on a touchdown run from quarterback Jordan Lynch, and the Huskies went on to the Orange Bowl.
There, they faced Florida State and Hudson, who was the assistant head coach and linebackers coach for the Seminoles. FSU rolled NIU 31-10 and the Huskies ended their season 12-2 and No. 22 overall in the Associated Press Top-25 poll.
Lynch, a dual-threat option who scored three rushing touchdowns and threw for one in that MAC championship game, is back to lead the offense. Though the NIU defense is a work in progress, Hazell sees plenty of talent and some new wrinkles to the Huskies as a team.
You’ve seen them up close and in person, but every game is its own separate entity, said Hazell, whose team will use some of Hudson’s game planning from the Orange Bowl.
They’re still a good football team, and they do a lot of great things offensively that create issues.
NIU coach Rod Carey said on the MAC teleconference Monday that his team looks different from the conference champion and BCS bowl team it was a year ago.
They’re two totally different teams so far, and obviously the book isn’t written on this team yet, Carey said. If you look at it from a big, 10,000-foot level, you can say it’s pretty similar. You get down in there, and there’s a lot of new names and faces playing.
Regardless, Lynch remains the common denominator for NIU’s success.
The 6-foot senior set the NCAA season rushing record for a quarterback in 2012 and, with 404 rushing yards in three games, has outrushedPurdue (1-3) on his own by 122 yards.
Lynch has also thrown for seven touchdowns.
Jordan Lynch is a special guy – a guy that has a huge heart, and that’s what makes that football team go, Hazell said. They’re letting him throw it a little bit more than they did last year, so that creates another dimension for you defensively.
The Boilermakers have a chance to take advantage of the NIU defense and keep Lynch off the field, despite their own offensive woes. The Huskies are 115th in the country in total defense, and while Purdue is No. 121 in total offense, it has played a few stout defenses in Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Wisconsin.
The key against NIU, Hazell said, will be getting the offense to settle in.
One of the things we need to be able to do is relax a little bit, he said. You get hit in the backfield for a two-yard loss and you come back with a pass play potentially and you throw an incomplete pass or you take a sack, and all of a sudden it’s third and 12 – those are hard situations to make for any team, let alone a team that’s struggling a little bit offensively.