Northern Illinois preview
So, Northern Illinois.
Remember last time?
Well, here we are, down to this, and if EMU is to have a winning season, if EMU is to become bowl-eligible, they’re going to have to slay this dragon in DeKalb.
You know about the changes at EMU since last year, so let’s talk about what’s changed for the Huskies.
Jerry Kill is gone to Minnesota, replaced by former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren. As sometimes happens, the defense has taken a big step backwards. They lost a lot defensive starters to graduation last year, and of course it takes a little time for a new head coach to put his system in place. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that they have a really bad defense this year; they’re allowing 14.9 points per game more than last year (2010: 18.9; 2011: 33.8). Kansas (45) and Central Michigan (48), neither of them particularly good teams, scored their season highs against the Huskies, and Wisconsin (49), Buffalo (30), Ball State (38), and Toledo (60) also put up a lot of points. Then there’s Cal Poly, a Football Championship Subdivision team barely over .500, who scored 30 points in DeKalb. Let’s just say that we shouldn’t be too surprised if the Eagles are able to put up 35 to 45 points today.
The question is whether 35 to 45 points will be enough to beat the Huskies. Chad Spann is gone to wherever it is MAC stars go — not the NFL — and it seems to have hardly made a difference. Northern Illinois’s rushing numbers have declined from gaudy (6.3 yards per carry i n 2010) to merely very impressive (5.9 yards per carry in 2011); they dropped all the way from #1 to #3 in the nation. Quarterback Chandler Harnish is not only one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country (157 passer rating), he’s now the MAC’s #2 rusher with 1203 yards (behind Buffalo’s Branden Oliver and just ahead of Temple’s Bernard Pierce), while his 7.76 yards per carry leads all regular ball carriers in the MAC. With 406 more passing yards this season — easily attainable if the Huskies play in the MAC Championship game and a bowl game — Harnish will join Vince Young (2005) and Dan LeFevour (2007) as the only quarterbacks ever to pass for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in a single season. In addition to Harnish, Northern Illinois has several capable running backs, and six or seven receivers capable of having a big game. Suffice it to say that the Huskies’ offense is loaded.
EMU’s keys to a win will be straightforward. The offense doesn’t need to be explosive, but it does need to be efficient: no yards wasted to turnovers, no goal-line possessions that end in field goals, no three-and-outs, and take advantage of what the Huskies’ defense will give them. The defense doesn’t need to completely shut the Huskies down, but they do need to slow them down: no big plays, no quick touchdowns. Special teams need to just do their job: no big returns allowed, no shanked punts, no trying to pick up a blocked field goal. If the Eagles play well in all facets and one or two players come up big, this could be a Thanksgiving weekend to remember.