Preview: Northern Illinois at Ball State Print E-mail
Written by Dave Ruthenberg   
Wednesday, November 05 2008
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BSU QB Nate Davis
Undefeated 16th-ranked Ball State and Northern Illinois will take the national stage Wednesday night when the Cardinals host the Huskies in an ESPN2 clash of MAC West frontrunners.

Northern Illinois (5-3, 4-1 MAC) at  (16)Ball State (8-0, 4-0 MAC), 8:00 pm ET
Site: Scheumann Stadium
Television: ESPN2
Series: Ball State leads 19-14-2. Last meeting: Ball State 27, Northern Illinois 21 in 2007.
 Scouting the Huskies: The Huskies, under first-year head coach Jerry Kill head into their matchup against Ball State on a pretty impressive defensive run. Over its past six contests the Huskies have given up exactly four touchdowns and one of those was on a punt return. Northern Illinois, which has won five of its last six games since opening the season 0-2, tops the MAC allowing a paltry 13.6 points per game which ranks ninth nationally as does their average of allowing only 267.3 yards of offense per game. The Huskies D is led by All-MAC standout Larry English who ranks second among all active FBS players in career sacks, leads the Huskies with 4.5 sacks this season for a defense that has also forced twelve turnovers over their last six The Huskies rank second in the MAC in turnover marginThe offense has been steady if not spectacular. The Huskies have gotten it done by committee on the ground this season with both MeCo Brown and Chad Spann offering productive backfield options with Brown averaging 5.1 yards per carry and leading the squad with 498 yards rushing while Spann is averaging an even more impressive 5.5 yards per carry. Freshman QB Chandler Harnish is back in the starting fold after missing some time due to injury. Harnish has tossed five touchdowns and only two picks this season and also showed some wheels in NIUs 16-13 win over Bowling Green, rushing for 113 yards. Harnish has a pair of big-play receives in Marcus Perez and Nathan Palmer with Palmer averaging 23.2 yard per reception. Combined, Perez and Palmer have accounted for 41% of the Huskies receiving yards this seasonNIU PK Mike Salerno has been one of the steadiest in the MAC, is 11-13 from inside the 40-yard line and has a season-long 52-yard FG to his credit, giving the Huskies a solid option in a close contest.
 Scouting the Cardinals: Ball State continues to climb in the polls and is up to 16th in the latest AP Poll. The Cardinals have won their first eight games of the season by double digit margins and have scored fewer than thirty points only once this season. Like the Huskeis they are coming into tonights contest on a ten-day layover. While much of the early attention was focused on the Cardinals potent passing attack, the ground game has been led by the MACs leading rusher, MiQuale Lewis. Lewis is averaging 123.6 yards per game (7th
The brand new Bronze Stalk Trophy
nationally) and needs only eleven yards to reach the 1,000 yard mark. Lewis, who has rushed for 100 yards or more six times this season, also tops the MAC with 14 rushing touchdowns and his average of 10.5 points per game ranks fourth in the nation. The emergence of Lewis has taken some of the pressure off the passing game but the Cardinals, who top the MAC by averaging 37.5 points per game, still offer one of the nations top aerial threats in QB Nate Davis who is tenth in the nation in passing efficiency, having tossed fifteen touchdowns and only five interceptions while averaging a solid 66.7% completion rate. Davis has thrown a TD pass in 24 of his last 25 games. The receiving corps lost a major weapon with the career-ending injury to Dante Love in BSUs 42-20 win over Indiana earlier this season but freshman WR Briggs Orsbon has been able to partially fill the void with 388 yards receiving and four touchdowns. The Cardinals also have one of the top pass receiving tight ends in the business in Darius Hill who is averaging fifteen yards per reception and is tied with Orsbon for the team lead with four TD catches. The Cardinals OL has also done a solid job this season in protecting the QB, allowing only seven sacksBut the Cardinals are not strictly about offense anymore. Ball States defense ranks fourth in the MAC in total defense and is second behind Northern Illinois, allowing only 15.5 points per game. BSU DB Sean Baker is second in the MAC with four interceptions (three in one game against Akron on Sept 13) and is also the teams leading tackler this season.
Prediction: This season the contest between the Cardinals and Huskies will include the introduction of the Bronze Stalk Trophy which was created to spice up the series but the teams have taken care of that themselves with their on-field performance this season. A Ball State win keeps the Cardinals undefeated in the MAC, moving the Cards into a first-place tie atop the MAC West with two-time defending champ Central Michigan. A win by the Huskies would create a three-way traffic jam behind the Chips and keep the Huskies in the hunt. This has the makings of a classic matchup with playmakers on both sides of the ball for both teams. Third down conversions are always key and will be bear watching here as the Huskies top the MAC in third down defense while Ball State leads the MAC in third down conversions. Get the popcorn and pizza ready and settle in for what shapes up as one of the top non-BCS matchups this season. Home field and an edge on offense tip this one to the Cardinals' favor but the Huskies will keep it close. Ball State 24, Northern Illinois 16.
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