Lombardi leading NIU back to where he helped Michigan State stun Wolverines

  • Northern Illinois quarterback Rocky Lombardi fires a pass as he is pressured by the Wyoming defense last Saturday at Huskie Stadium.

    Northern Illinois quarterback Rocky Lombardi fires a pass as he is pressured by the Wyoming defense last Saturday at Huskie Stadium. Mark Busch/mbusch@shawmedia.com

  • Rocky Lombardi -- last year with Michigan State -- scrambles free in an Oct. 31 win against Michigan in Ann Arbor.

    Rocky Lombardi -- last year with Michigan State -- scrambles free in an Oct. 31 win against Michigan in Ann Arbor. Associated Press

 
By Eddie Carifio
Shaw Media
Updated 9/16/2021 6:32 PM

DeKALB -- Looking at a prospective team's schedule wasn't a key factor when Rocky Lombardi was finding a school to join after deciding to leave Michigan State last year.

So when Lombardi landed with the Huskies, he had no idea that a return trip to Michigan, the site of one of his best performances as a Spartan, was in the cards.

 

Lombardi said it wasn't until a talk with coach Thomas Hammock after he committed to NIU that he found out the Huskies had a trip to Michigan on their 2021 slate.

"I didn't even know NIU played them until I had committed," Lombardi said. "Coach Ham talked to me when I did commit, said we have Michigan Week 3. I was like well, sure enough, of course. It was exciting we get the opportunity."

The Spartans last year stunned the Wolverines, ranked No. 13 at the time, 27-24 in Ann Arbor. Lombardi threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns in the win.

But after the season he ended up transferring NIU after nine starts and 22 games with the Spartans. And NIU (1-1) is heading to No. 25 Michigan (2-0) for an 11 a.m. kickoff on Saturday.

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"It's big, first of all. Obviously the biggest stadium in the country," Lombardi said. "That's something you notice right away. You walk into it and it's much bigger than a lot of stadiums you play in. The environment is always good there."

Hammock said that Lombardi hasn't really addressed the team on what it takes to win in the Big House. Hammock said they're not trying to put too much pressure on getting a win at Power 5 school -- something they did just two weeks ago in a 22-21 win at Georgia Tech.

"We try not to make it bigger than what it needs to be," Hammock said. "It's the next opponent on our schedule and we have to go play our best football. We'll go with our normal routine of being prepared for the game."

The Huskies are coming off a 50-43 home loss to Wyoming. After being down 26 in the third, the Huskies led late but Wyoming scored late for the win. Lombardi threw three interceptions in the loss.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Those are Lombardi's only three picks of the year, and he has completed 56.6% of his passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns this year.

Lombardi said he's worked with the coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Eric Eidsness, on making sure he improves Saturday.

"I had some tipped passes not go our way last week, and that was unfortunate," Lombardi said. "Coach E and I talked about some ways to avoid that, some schematic ways to avoid that. At the end of the day I have to find the window to fit the ball in."

Hammock said Lombardi isn't solely to blame for the interceptions.

"I think unfortunately the quarterback position is one people are going to be highly critical of," Hammock said. "But two of the interceptions were deflected passes and the third one, really that's on us as a coaching staff. We had an RPO off a counter play, and we put him in a bad situation. We take full responsibility for that and that's something we need to clean up."

Hammock said the Spartans are different from last year, with a slew of changes on the coaching staff. That includes new defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald, who worked with Hammock in Baltimore.

"What they did in the past is really insignificant to how they are playing right now," Hammock said. "I worked with their defensive coordinator for five years. I have a pretty good knowledge of what they're trying to do."

Lombardi said he's just happy to help with whatever Hammock asks him to do leading into Saturday's game.

"I've let Coach Hammock address the team how he wants, say what he needs to say," Lombardi said. "The time will come where I'll say what I need to say but we're focused right now on what we need to do."

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