Flashes focus on ‘must win’ game against NIU

Joe Harrington

Kent State football coach Doug Martin has labeled Saturday’s game at Northern Illinois a “must-win” game.

It’s not the kind of statement that usually comes from a coach whose team is on a four-game losing streak and last in the conference. Nor is it the kind of statement a coach would say when his freshman quarterback is playing in front of a tough Huskie Stadium crowd.

But the message Martin is sending is this: Games that Kent State should win are “must-win” games.

“Our kids have to start learning how to play in meaningful games,” Martin said. “I want them to experience that pressure of (the game) meaning something, have it being important — because without (beating Northern Illinois), we can’t get that sixth win.”

Northern Illinois, a program that is almost always in the Mid-American Conference title race, is 1-8 this season. The Huskies’ only win came against Idaho on Sept. 22, a 42-35 victory. The last game they played, they lost 70-21 to Toledo.

But Martin is quick to point out that Northern Illinois hasn’t lost all its games in a lopsided fashion. The Huskies have lost four games by a combined 10 points.

“We’re going to play a very dangerous football team,” Martin said. “They have been in every football game — typical (Northern Illinois coach) Joe Novak team, they fight till the last play of the game.”

Novak is in his 12th season at Northern Illinois and has led the Huskies to four of the last six MAC West titles.

“This is the one guy in our league that I really have more respect for than any other coach that I know of (in the MAC),” Martin said.

Freshman quarterback Giorgio Morgan will have his hands full Saturday as he not only plays in his second college football game, but also experiences the first road game of his college career.

“It’s a different environment,” Morgan said. “I don’t believe it’s going to be a real hostile environment, but you’re still playing away, so you got to be ready for anything.”

Morgan, a Georgia native, said despite the windy weather, which Northern Illinois and nearby Chicago is known for, he is ready for the challenge.

“As long as I’ll be able to block it out — just stay within the game and don’t worry about it — I don’t think it will affect my game at all,” Morgan said.

Martin expects the Huskies to send multiple blitzes at Morgan, in an attempt to cause turnovers. Martin said the young quarterback has yet to throw an interception in practice or in a game.

Morgan threw three touchdowns on 18-of-28 passing for 247 yards against Central Michigan on Oct. 27.

Northern Illinois features one of the best defensive ends in the MAC, Larry English. The junior averages one sack a game, which is good for eighth in the country. Martin said English is one of the best ends the Flashes have played all season.

Contact football reporter Joe Harrington at [email protected].