Michigan Wolverines Football: NIU Head Coach Thomas Hammock, QB Rocky Lombardi Talk Michigan Football
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NIU Head Coach Thomas Hammock, QB Rocky Lombardi Talk Michigan Football

The success Michigan Wolverines football has enjoyed in its first two games — beating Western Michigan and Washington by a combined score of 78-24 — is familiar territory for Northern Illinois head coach Thomas Hammock, whose team upset Georgia Tech in week one before falling to Wyoming last Saturday.

Michigan rushed for 343 yards in its 31-10 victory over Washington last weekend. The Maize and Blue offense ranks fourth nationally with an average of 339 rushing yards per contest and slots fifth in yards per carry with a clip of 6.9.

Hammock, who worked under Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh's brother, John Harbaugh, with the Baltimore Ravens from 2014-18, serving as the team's running backs coach, understands what the Wolverines are trying to accomplish by going with a run-heavy approach on offense.

"They’ve built their team the right way, and one that we can certainly emulate," Hammock said during his Tuesday press conference. "I know the DNA of the Harbaugh family, and they have a style that’s very physical and demanding, and that’s going to stress you out in all three phases.

"We have a big challenge."

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Northern Illinois Huskies head coach Thomas Hammock
Northern Illinois Huskies football head coach Thomas Hammock was an assistant for the Wisconsin Badgers prior to his time in Baltimore. (AP Images)

Northern Illinois is set to take on the Wolverines Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor.

Knowing the DNA of the Harbaugh family may actually give Hammock an advantage this week.

"Michigan is running a lot of plays that I’m very familiar with, a lot of plays that we ran in Baltimore," Hammock said. "Obviously, Coach Harbaugh went back to his roots, his Stanford roots of being able to window dress run schemes, but continue to attack downhill. They’ve got about four or five concepts that they do a bunch of different ways with a bunch of different window dressing to really attack you downhill.

"I don’t think we’re going to see this level of physicality all season, the rest of the season. What a great test for us, what a great opportunity to go out there and try to prove that we can hold up, and that should give us confidence as the season goes along."

The Huskies are attempting to play a similar style of football, Hammock said. Leaning on freshman running back Harrison Waylee, who's accumulated 161.5 rushing yards per game through two contests (a mark that ranks third in the land), Northern Illinois is intent on pounding the rock.

"We’re building a brand of football, and for us, it’s got to start with our ability to run the football," said Hammock, who has posted a 6-14 record during his NIU tenure.

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Hammock said he and his staff have been almost solely focused on what the Wolverines' defense has done in their first two games — not what is on tape from prior years — considering that first-year coordinator Mike Macdonald made wholesale changes to the unit this offseason.

Hammock and Macdonald worked together for five seasons in Baltimore, a source of some more familiarity on both sides.

"I have a pretty good knowledge of what they’re trying to do," Hammock said. "We spent a lot of time together, talking about how to blitz people and attack protections and things like that, and he’s incorporated a lot of those principles."

Northern Illinois is a 27-point underdog at The Big House this weekend, but Hammock and his crew are embracing that fact.

"What a great opportunity. Nobody gives you a chance, so there’s no pressure whatsoever," he said. "The only thing that you should feel is, ‘Hey, can I go out there and play my best and get Michigan to respect us and recognize who we are as a football program?’

"And that should be the excitement — 110,000 fans, they’re into it. What a great atmosphere. Embrace it, no different than we did a couple weeks ago down in Atlanta [in a 22-21 win over Georgia Tech]. Embrace the opportunity to go out there and try to play your best football."

Michigan State Spartans Transfer QB Rocky Lombardi Talks Michigan

Redshirt junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi, a Michigan State transfer, threw for 1,090 yards and eight touchdowns for the Spartans last season, and played a stellar game at The Big House, passing for 323 yards and three scores in a 24-21 upset victory over Michigan.

While he hasn't spoken to his team much about playing Michigan yet early this week, he's excited to get the chance to as the game draws closer.

"I’ve let Coach do most of the talking, address the team how he wants and say what he needs to say," Lombardi said. "The time will come where I’ll say what I need to say, too, but as of right now, we’re just focused on what we can do on a daily basis."

While the 2020 game between MSU and U-M didn't include fans in the stands, Lombardi — who was on the team for the Spartans' 44-10 loss at The Big House in 2019 — knows what kind of atmosphere playing in Ann Arbor provides.

"Well, it’s big, first of all," Lombardi said of Michigan Stadium. "It’s obviously the biggest stadium in the country. That was something that you noticed right away. You walk into it, and it’s a lot bigger than a lot of stadiums that you play in.

"The environment’s always really good there. But it’s just like most of the Big Ten stadiums. It compares to Ohio State, Penn State. There are a lot of atmospheres that are similar, but it’s a great place to play."

Through two games, Lombardi has completed 30 of his 53 pass attempts for 369 yards and three touchdowns. He's also thrown three interceptions, all of which came during last week's 50-43 loss to Wyoming.

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