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Zook, Illini ready for NIU's 'big boy' football
By Lindsey Willhite | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 9/16/2010 12:00 AM

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One year ago this weekend, Northern Illinois barged into Purdue and dominated the line of scrimmage.

The Huskies outrushed the Boilers 280-147 on their way to the school's second win over a Big Ten school.

Clearly, Illinois coach Ron Zook paid attention to that tape when he offered his evaluation of NIU.

The Huskies, who lost their top two offensive linemen from last year's 7-win team, travel to Illinois on Saturday in the teams' first meeting since 2001.

"We talked to our team about how they're going to try to 'big boy' us," Zook said. "I think it's important that our guys understand that we go out there ready to play.

"They're a lot like a Big Ten team. They're physical. They're big. They want to run the ball - pound it in there - and play-action pass and do those kind of things."

Judging by the early-season stats, this could be a grudge match of epic proportions.

Northern Illinois ranks 12th nationally with 260.0 rushing yards per game.

Conversely, Illinois' defense ranks 12th nationally with 72.0 rushing yards allowed per game.

McGee's injury: Senior Eddie McGee's badly sprained ankle has triggered a chain reaction of events on Illinois' depth chart.

Not only was McGee a starting wide receiver, he served as the backup quarterback.

When McGee hurt his ankle in the first half Saturday against Southern Illinois, Ron Zook initially was told McGee suffered a break.

That's why he decided to give freshman Miles Osei (Prospect) the game's final series at quarterback.

Osei, who committed to Northern Illinois last fall before changing his mind Jan. 17, will be Nathan Scheelhaase's backup this week.

To replace McGee at receiver, the Illini brought sophomore Jack Ramsey back from his three-week tour of duty at cornerback.

Zook said either Ramsey or freshman Darius Millines could inherit McGee's starting spot.

Santella near the top: Fourth-year starter Anthony Santella entered this season with a career average of 39.4 yards per punt.

To put that into perspective, the Wauconda High School graduate's numbers were below the national norm.

Not this year.

With a 49.0-yard average on his 9 punts this season, Santella ranks second in the FBS standings. He trails only Clemson's Dawson Zimmerman (49.8).

"I'm really proud of Anthony," said Zook, who has worked with Santella all four years. "Sometimes I think at practice he'll (shank) one over to the sidelines just to see if he can get my reaction, so I try not to give him a reaction.

"He worked extremely hard this summer. His operation time. He's getting the ball off."