Game 12 preview: Northern Illinois Huskies
This week we will see the end of the 2010 EMU football season, and we’ll close the book on the season next week with a season recap. But first, there’s just this one last game to get through. Nothing much to worry about, just the best team in the MAC coming to town the day after Thanksgiving.
Record: 9-2; 7-0 in the MAC
Recent games: After a close call (28-21) against Western Michigan at the end of October, the Huskies have torn through their last two opponents mercilessly. They dashed Toledo’s title hopes 65-30 in a game that wasn’t as close as even that lopsided score might suggest; the score was 28-0 at halftime and 65-23 in the final minute. They followed it up by putting Ball State in their place, 59-21.
Quality wins: They beat Minnesota, but then, so did the South Dakota Coyotes, who finished in next-to-last place in the Great West. The Huskies have absolutely demolished their MAC competition, however. Aside from a 7-point win over Western Michigan, they haven’t even had any close calls. They beat Temple by 14 points, 31-17, and absolutely thrashed Toledo, 65-30. They’ve won their seven MAC games by an average score of 44.4-17.7, nearly 27 points per game.
Embarrasing losses: The only truly embarrasing loss for the Huskies this fall has been the season-opening 27-10 beating they took at the hands of Iowa State, who finished the season with an unimpressive 5-7 record (3-5 in the Big XII). Two weeks later they lost a hard-fought game, 28-22 at Illinois, but there’s no great shame in a MAC team posting a narrow loss to a team that went on to finish 4-4 in the Big (11) Ten, and is likely to finish 7-5 overall.
Last meeting: In 2009, Northern Illinois pwned the Eagles in Huskie Stadium, 50-6, nearly tripling EMU’s yardage. The 44-point defeat was the fourth-most lopsided of the Ron English era (2010: 53 points at Ohio State, 46 points at Vanderbilt; 2009: 48 points at Central Michigan).
All-time series: This will be the 41st meeting in this series, which Northern Illinois leads 24-14-2. The first two games came in 1927 and 1928, when EMU (then MSNC) football was probably at its all-time peak, and the Normalites won those games 25-6 and 43-0, respectively. Twenty years later, the teams commenced a 15-year series, of which Northern Illinois won the first five, MSNC/Eastern Michigan won the next seven, and Northern Illinois won the final three. They played ten times from the late 1970s through the late 1980s, with a 25-2 EMU win in 1977, a 0-0 tie in 1979, then four decisive Northern Illinois wins, a tie and two more Huskies’ wins in the mid-1980s, concluding that portion of the series with a 32-31 EMU win in 1987. They didn’t play again until Northern Illinois returned to the MAC in 1997, and of those thirteen games, the Eagles have won just three and the Huskies ten. The last EMU win came in DeKalb in Septbember 2007, 21-19, while the last home win for the Eagles was in 2000; the Huskies have won eight of the last nine games.
Coach: The Huskies are coached by Jerry Kill, in his third season in DeKalb. Kill got his first head coach position in 1994, at the age of 33, when he was hired at Saginaw Valley State University (Division II). He led the Cardinals to a winning season each of his five years there, including going 9-2 each of his last two years. He then spent two years coaching the Emporia State Hornets (Division II), going 11-11 during that time. In 2001 he was hired to coach Southern Illinois (FCS), and after going 1-10 his first year and 4-8 his second year, he had five highly successful seasons with the Salukis. He led the Salukis to three consecutive Gateway Football Conference Championships (2003, 2004, 2005), reaching a #1 ranking and garnering the #1 seed in 2004. He remains the only coach to have even four consecutive winning seasons at Southern Illinois. Two weeks ago I wrote that, despite some health problems, Kill is the most likely MAC head coach to be wooed by an AQ-conference team, and I’ve seen nothing to change that opinion since then. He comes in to this game sporting a 63.6% all-time winning percentage.
Offense: Can they score? Let’s put it this way: their 36.4 points per game average ranks #1 in the MAC and #19 in the nation, one spot ahead of the defending BCS champion Alabama. They get it done first and foremost on the ground, with their 255.1 yards per game making them the nation’s #11 rushing offense, one spot ahead of likely Big (11) Ten champ Wisconsin. Senior running back Chad Spann has carried the ball 219 times for the Huskies, piling up 1151 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and 18 touchdowns. That’s easily more carries and more yards than anyone else in the MAC, making Spann the nations #17 rusher, and his 18 touchdowns lead all ball-carriers nationwide.
But lest you think the Huskies are a one-dimensional team on offense — they run the ball 65% of the time — you should know that they also boast the MAC’s most efficient quarterback. Chandler Harnish, a junior, has completed 149 of his 225 pass attempts, an impressive 66% completion rate, for 1848 yards (8.2 yards per attempt), and has 15 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions this year. Oh yeah, Harnish can move too; he’s carried the ball 116 times for 729 yards (6.3 yards per carry) and five touchdowns, making him the #5 ball carrier in the conference.
When Harnish throws the ball, he spreads it pretty evenly among his top four recievers: junior wide reciever Nathan Palmer has 24 catches for 436 yards (18.2 yards per catch) and 6 touchdowns, junior wide reciever Willy Clark has 29 catches for 379 yards (13.1 yards per catch) and 4 touchdowns, senior wide reciever Landon Cox has 28 catches for 362 yards (12.9 yards per catch) and 3 touchdowns, and sophomore wide reciever Martel Moore has 31 catches for 314 yards (10.1 yards per catch) and 2 touchdowns.
Defense: With an offense like that, you might think Northern Illinois gets in a lot of shootouts, but they don’t. They just score a bunch of points on other teams. The Huskies have a ton of veterans on defense — they only lost two starters from 2009 — and it shows. Their 19.9 points per game allowed is second in the MAC and #24 in the nation. They’re solid against both the run and the pass; they’ve given up a fair number of passing yards, but that’s because so many teams have tried (and failed) to come from behind against them, and on a yards-per-attempt basis their pass defense is solid. On top of all that, they’ve grabbed 16 interceptions (tied for #12 in the nation) and returned two for touchdowns.
Predictions: Northern Illinois is a huge favorite in this game, and deservedly so; they are the second-toughest offense and second-toughest defense the Eagles face this year (both behind Ohio State). I’m seeing betting lines favoring the Huskies by about 26 points, and I think they’ll probably cover that spread comfortably. The Huskies will run out to a commanding halftime lead, on the order of 35-3. Jerry Kill will pull the starters early in the third quarter to rest them for the MAC championship game next week, and the final score will be somewhere around 55-17. 1% chance of an EMU win, which is only that high because this is a mostly meaningless game for Northern Illinois.