Northern Illinois and Toledo went into their nationally televised game undefeated in league play. But the Huskies showed just how far the Rockets have to go into order to contend for a MAC title in a 65-30 victory Tuesday night.
Now the Huskies (8-2, 6-0) are alone atop the West and the only unbeaten team left in MAC play. They already beat co-East leader Temple earlier this year and have now won seven straight. Northern Illinois can win its first MAC West title since 2005 with a win over either Ball State or Eastern Michigan.
"Our kids are believing in each other," Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill said. "When you get a little confidence, things seem to fall into place. I think the kids are playing with confidence right now. We've got two more weeks. You can't listen to all the things people say, you have to keep getting better. We still can get better. That's the good thing, we can get a lot better."
Hard to imagine how much better given what the Huskies did Tuesday night. Northern Illinois ran for 422 yards on the ground, as Chandler Harnish passed for and ran for a touchdown, and Chad Spann had three touchdowns on the ground. Harnish ended up leading the team in passing (162) and rushing (149). The Huskies led 28-0 at halftime and essentially were able to do whatever they wanted in the first half.
"It's a tremendous feeling," Spann said. "There was a lot of tradition in this game. It's a big game for both teams for our postseason goals. To be able to have the showing we did and put up as many points as we did, it really feels good."
As for Toledo (6-3, 5-1), coach Tim Beckman blamed poor tackling and an inability to fit the scheme properly for the problems on defense. The Rockets also had redshirt freshman quarterback Terrance Owens make his first career start in place of Austin Dantin, out with a shoulder injury.
Owens went 18-of-38 for 186 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, but the Rockets simply dug themselves a hole too big to overcome. The 65 points were the most the Rockets have given up since losing 81-0 to Miami (Ohio) in 1953.
"We're just a very young football team," Beckman said. "When you're only playing three, four seniors, a first start for a quarterback ... there's some things we'll improve on. We'll learn from this situation and try to build for the next football games."
Toledo closes the season against Bowling Green and Central Michigan, and is still bowl eligible for the first time since 2005.
But the story of the MAC season is Northern Illinois.