Vanderbilt QB won't underestimate NIU
DeKALB -- Vanderbilt quarterback Riley Neal is not taking Northern Illinois lightly heading into Saturday's early showdown in Nashville.
"I'm 0-4 against Northern Illinois in my career," Neal said. "They're a really good team and I think that's understood."
A week before playing the Ball State Cardinals, the Northern Illinois football team will face off against Neal. Except Neal will be donning gold and black after having played with the Cardinals for the last four years.
"I think anybody that follows college football knows they (NIU) have a history of being a really good team, top of the MAC," Neal said. "They've had NFL players on their team as long as I've played them."
Neal has thrown for 669 yards and 3 touchdowns in the Commodores' 0-3 start, during which Vanderbilt has lost to AP Top 10 squads LSU and Georgia.
Neal was the starting quarterback last year when the Cardinals hosted the Huskies. He threw for 260 yards on 32 of 56 passes last year in their home loss.
Safety Mykelti Williams lauded the Commodores' offensive talent despite Vanderbilt's three losses to begin the season.
"I think the 0-3 start is kind of skewed. If you watch the film, they're a pretty good team," Williams said. "On the offensive side, they have really good skill at the quarterback position. They have explosive receivers that can make plays if you allow them. They have a really good running back. He's doing a really good job on film. They have a tight end who's pretty good. We have our hands full."
The Huskies had last week of, last playing two weeks ago in a 44-8 loss to Nebraska and enter 1-2.
Williams is confident the rest the Huskies picked up from the bye week was beneficial.
"I think it's just allowed us to rejuvenate. Everybody's fresh now. Everybody feels good," Wil-liams said. "Everybody's excited to be out there on the practice field. Then, we've just got another week of practice to get ready for Saturday."
Huskies coach Thomas Hammock said that the coaching staff self-evaluated, allowed the team a few days off to rest and used some extra days for recruiting in the immediate follow-up of the Nebraska game.
"Last week was much needed for our team and the coaches. We used it as an improvement week. We took three days to really hone in on ourselves," Hammock said.
Commodores coach Derek Mason said he's not taking the game lightly.
"If you fall into that mindset of being comfortable, Northern Illinois will beat your face in," Ma-son said. "They're a good program. They're a good football team."
The game represents a big step for the likes of middle linebacker Vinny Labus, who makes his second start, and the third of his career Saturday. Labus is playing in place of Kyle Pugh, who was lost for the year due to a right shoulder injury.
"I've got a lot of family coming to that game," Labus said. "They were coming even if I wasn't starting. I'm really excited to play in a big stadium like that in front of him."
The Huskies are 1-10 in game against SEC programs, with that win coming against Alabama in 2003.
Vanderbilt's defense enters ranked 126 out of 130 in yardage allowed per game (539.3) and 128th in passing yards allowed per game (361.0).
Northern Illinois (1-2) at Vanderbilt (0-3)When: 11 a.m. Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.
TV: SEC Network Radio: WIND AM-560, WLBK AM-1380
Series history: Vanderbilt has won all three games -- each of which were played from 1994 to 1999 -- by a total of 14 points. NIU coach Thomas Hammock played in the 1999 game in Nashville.
Fast facts: NIU and Vanderbilt are the only two schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision whose athletic directors, head football coaches and head men's basketball coaches are all black.
Prediction: NIU 28, Vanderbilt 24