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Northern Illinois Huskies ride momentum into matchup with Wyoming Cowboys
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UW FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK

Northern Illinois Huskies ride momentum into matchup with Wyoming Cowboys

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Lombardi lifts Northern Illinois past Georgia Tech, 22-21

Northern Illinois linebacker Lance Deveaux Jr. celebrates during the Huskies' victory against Georgia Tech on Saturday in Atlanta.

LARAMIE – Northern Illinois head coach Thomas Hammock has spent part of the week recruiting fans to show up and join the fun Saturday at Huskie Stadium.

It should be an easy sales pitch.

The Huskies (1-0) – coming off an 0-6 finish to the shortened 2020 Mid-American Conference-only schedule – opened the season with a 22-21 victory at Georgia Tech.

NIU’s matchup with Wyoming, set to kick off at 11:30 a.m. Mountain Time and streaming on ESPN+, will be the program’s first home game with fans allowed to attend at full capacity since Nov. 26, 2019.

“I think it’s going to be a very physical ballgame, a very competitive ballgame, and we have to play our best football for a chance to win,” Hammock said during his weekly press conference. “Obviously, we have a big game this weekend and we’d love for our fans to show up and create a home-field advantage for our players. That makes a big difference.”

Hammock noted the Cowboys drew a near-capacity crowd (27,007) for their 19-16 comeback victory over Montana State at War Memorial Stadium.

When asked if the Huskies, coming off the dramatic win in ACC country and with a road game looming Sept. 18 at Michigan, could have a letdown against UW, Hammock was emphatic that won’t happen.

“I’m not too concerned about that, to be honest with you,” Hammock said. “We went a whole season without winning a game. These guys have a chip on their shoulder. And if they don’t, then we’ll play the next player.

“The letdown performance, I’m not concerned about, because we have a lot of competition on our team.”

Hammock said he had a chance to meet UW head coach Craig Bohl at a camp over the summer. He was also an assistant on Minnesota’s staff when Bohl’s North Dakota State team defeated the Golden Gophers in 2007.

“He’s an old-school coach, a coach that reminds me of coaches I’ve played for and worked for,” said Hammock, who played at NIU and was the Baltimore Ravens running backs coach before accepting the job at his alma mater in 2019. “When I was at Minnesota, we played North Dakota State, and it didn’t end well for us. So I have a lot of respect for coach Bohl and his program and the type of team that is coming in here.”

Despite the Huskies’ impressive start to the season and UW’s narrow escape against an FCS team, the Cowboys are 6 ½-point favorites.

Pokes in the pros

The NFL regular season begins Thursday night and there are currently nine former UW players on active rosters.

Buffalo Bills star quarterback Josh Allen, the runner-up for the 2020 NFL most valuable player award, is obviously the headliner.

Safety Marcus Epps (Philadelphia Eagles), safety Tashaun Gipson (Chicago Bears), defensive end Carl Granderson (New Orleans Saints), tight end Jacob Hollister (Jacksonville Jaguars), defensive tackle Mike Purcell (Denver Broncos), center Chase Roullier (Washington Football Team), linebacker Logan Wilson (Cincinnati Bengals) and safety Andrew Wingard (Jacksonville Jaguars) also made 53-man rosters.

Boise State has 12 players on active NFL rosters to lead the Mountain West. UW is tied with Utah State (9) for second ahead of Fresno State (8), San Diego State (8), San Jose State (7), Colorado State (7), Nevada (3), New Mexico (2), Hawaii (2), UNLV (2) and Air Force (1)

The Cowboys also have two players currently signed to NFL practice squads – wide receiver Tanner Gentry (Buffalo Bills) and cornerback Tyler Hall (Los Angeles Rams).

Former UW running back Brian Hill, tight ends Tyree Mayfield and Austin Fort, wide receiver Rico Gafford and defensive end Eddie Yarbrough are among the NFL veterans who did not survive the final round of cuts and are currently free agents.

Notable

Since 1969, NIU is 28-22 in home openers at Huskie Stadium. But the Huskies are 71-27 (.724) overall at home since 2003 and did not lose a home game over four consecutive seasons (2010-13). …

NIU is 9-13 all-times against teams currently in the Mountain West. The Huskies lost 34-28 at San Diego State in 2017 a year after the classic three-overtime loss to UW in Laramie in 2016. …

UW offensive coordinator Tim Polasek was NIU’s tight ends and fullbacks coach in 2013.

Quotable

“It’s going to be a battle. I’m expecting a game that comes down to the wire,” Hammock said. “We have to embrace the opportunity to make a play on either side of the ball to win the game.”

Follow UW beat writer Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn

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