When a midmajor football program takes on a talented and highly ranked opponent, a typical goal is to shorten the contest with long, slow drives that keep the clock running.
Northern Illinois is thinking the opposite heading into Saturday's matchup with No. 7 Wisconsin at Soldier Field.
The Huskies plan to bypass the huddle and snap the ball quickly, not utilize one of those faux no-huddle offenses where the players line up and then spend 20 seconds looking to the sideline and calling the play.
“Our biggest asset is going fast,” NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish said this week. “I've heard critics say we almost go too fast. But that's what our offense is built on.
“We're built on playing fast and making a defense play the most vanilla defense they can just to line up against us. That's how we'll succeed because we're able to attack them when they're tired. We're going to keep pushing it and try to go faster.”
NIU's last-second 45-42 loss at Kansas last week seemed to deflate the upset potential of Saturday's game at Soldier Field.
Then again, Northern Illinois' offense might be capable of challenging any opponent.
The Huskies have averaged 45.5 points and 486 yards per game in the first two weeks. On the other side, the Badgers are coming off a shutout victory over Oregon State.
“Confidence is high right now on the offensive side of the ball,” said Harnish, a native of Bluffton, Ind., which is roughly 20 miles south of Fort Wayne. “We believe we can do anything we want to do. … We can run it up in there, we can go outside, and we can throw it.”
The offensive ringmaster is Harnish, a fourth-year starter. He ranks sixth in the nation in quarterback rating (198.0), having completed 39 of 52 passes for 510 yards, 7 touchdowns and 1 interception in two games.
Harnish also has run for 169 yards, placing him a close second for the team lead behind tailback Jasmin Hopkins with 185 yards.
“If our offense plays like they have been, they could cause problems for a lot of people because they're versatile,” said first-year NIU head coach Dave Doeren, a former Wisconsin defensive coordinator.
“Chandler's throwing and running well. Our tailbacks are playing well. We've got a lot of receivers that can rotate and keep it fresh. Our offensive line did a great job protecting. We need to continue to execute at the level we are and move the chains.”
Protecting Harnish is an offensive wall featuring five 300-pounders, all returning starters.
Left tackle Trevor Olson (6-6, 300), a fourth-year starter, is on the Outland and Lombardi watch lists, while right guard Joe Pawlak (6-5, 301) will be making his 30th career start Saturday.
Of the 13 potential offensive starters listed on NIU's depth chart, nine are fifth-year seniors, including receiver Willie Clark from Lake Park High School.
“Having a veteran offense is a great thing to have,” center Scott Wedige said. “You get rid of some of the jitters.”
Pawlak is one of several former walk-ons in the group. During his three varsity seasons at Grayslake Central, Pawlak's teams posted a record of 4-23, so he wasn't ready to stop there.
“I just showed up (at NIU) and worked hard every day, listened to coaches,” he said. “I just came with a chip on my shoulder, really, knowing that I wanted to get a scholarship.
“I owe a lot of my discipline to my dad, probably. He was in the Marines. Growing up, we had to do our chores on time and stuff like that. I think it really helped me get to where I am today with the discipline and doing stuff on time and never really quitting.”
Pawlak figures that same philosophy will help the Huskies stay competitive against Wisconsin.
“You've just got to stay focused on what we're doing,” he said. “Come out with a chip on our shoulders. We have a slogan: Do it the hard way. We have that sticker on the back of our helmets. That's what we've got to do.”Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.