What they said: NIU coach Thomas Hammock recognizes big challenge in facing Michigan

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No. 25 Michigan is set to take on Northern Illinois this weekend, which is a Mid-American Conference team that it doesn’t have much familiarity with.

The Wolverines have only faced NIU one other time — a comeback win in 2005 when the maize and blue took down the Huskies, 33-17. Michigan does however hold a 34-1 record against the MAC as a whole.

NIU coach Thomas Hammock met with the media this week to talk about the upcoming game and he has some familiarity with the Wolverines in a roundabout way. Hammock coached under John Harbaugh with the Baltimore Ravens for five years as their running backs coach from 2014-2018, which also means he spent some time with new Michigan defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald.

Hammock talked about the DNA the Harbaugh family presents, and how there are similarities between the two Harbaugh brothers.

“We have a big challenge this weekend in Michigan,” Hammock said. “They built their team the right way and one that we can certainly emulate. Obviously, I worked for Jim Harbaugh’s brother for five years, so I know the DNA of the Harbaugh family. They have a style that is very physical and demanding — It’s going to stress you out in all phases. We have a big challenge, and it got started on the right foot today in practice.

“Well, their DNA is quite similar (talking about John and Jim). They want to start with a physically demanding style that is going to put you in stress and see if you are going to hold up for four quarters. Michigan is running a lot of plays that I’m very familiar with, a lot of plays that we ran in Baltimore. Obviously, Coach Harbaugh went back to his roots – his Stanford roots – being able to window dress, run schemes, but continue to attack downhill. They have four or five concepts that they do a bunch of different ways, and a bunch of different window dressing to attack you downhill. It’s going to be a big challenge, and we need to meet the challenge.”

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NIU is sitting at 1-1 on the season after upsetting Georgia Tech in Week 1 but then losing to Wyoming in Week 2. The Huskies are allowing the opponents to rush for 231 yards-per-game on the ground.

Hammock knows that his defensive line is going to be undersized compared to the Michigan offensive line and he also knows that his defense will need to help each other out and can’t leave a man alone against the Wolverines.

“Yeah, obviously, there is a physical challenge that comes with it,” said Hammock. “The one thing that we have to do a better job of is, if you feel yourself getting moved, create pile — you know, make it dirty, or make it dirty for the back, or dirty for the offense. You got to – you know, if there is a double team coming, and feel yourself moving more than you should be, then you need to create a pile. At the same time, I don’t think we will see this level of physicality all season – the rest of the season. What a great test for us, what an opportunity to go out there and try to prove that we can hold up, and give us confidence for the rest of the season.”

The Wolverines are running the ball at a 3:1 ratio compared to passing so far this season. The maize and blue are gashing the opponents for 339 yards-per-game on the ground after two games. Hammock believes that Michigan is building its team’s strength for its rival — Ohio State.

“Yeah, in the NFL, the one thing you do is build your team to beat your rival,” said Hammock. “So obviously they have a philosophy that they think they’re building to beat Ohio State. I think I read something a little bit ago that they have a ‘Beat Ohio’ drill – which is a 9-on-7 – so, they want to be a physical outfit, it’s their DNA. They have a good offensive line, good tight ends, they have two exceptional backs, and a quarterback that is going to manage the game. So, we understand what is coming out way.”

Hammock singled out Blake Corum — who has 282 running yards this year — and the focus on practicing this week has been wrapping the ball carrier up.

“Well, he’s an exceptional player,” Hammock said. “We worked a lot today on tackling, and that’s something that will be continued to be worked on. I told our team today is, the Georgia Tech backs, and these two kids (Corum and Haskins) are probably as good as you’ll see. The good thing is we have two players on the scout team that is giving our defense a great look.”

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If NIU has any shot to compete with the Wolverines it will have to get out to a quick start. The head coach expressed how important it is for the Huskies to not only start fast on offense but on defense as well.

“It’s really important,” said Hammock. “The faster we start, the better chance we have. We started practice today with a special period to start fast. We want some good against good, and it went well for us. We have to be able to be a fast-starting operation both offensively and defensively.”

The Huskies do have one starting player who has previously terrorized the maize and blue in former Michigan State quarterback Rocky Lombardi. As we all know, MSU upset the Wolverines last year with Lombardi under center. Even though he has faced Michigan before, Hammock doesn’t believe it will help out his game plan much.

“Well, if you do your research, the whole staff is new – I think they have eight or nine new coaches,” said Hammock. “So, what they did in the past is insignificant to how they play right now. I worked with their defensive coordinator for five years, so I have a pretty good knowledge of what they’re trying to do. We spent a lot of time together talking about how to blitz people and attack protections and things like that. He has incorporated a lot of those principles. We have to use the two games they played as, that’s what they are doing now.”

You can watch the game on Saturday, Sept. 18th at noon EDT on BTN.

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