Its another nationally televised showcase for the MAC as Central Michigan looks to keep pace with undefeated Ball State in the race for the MAC West title on ESPN2 Wednesday night. But the Chips will have to get by a resurgent Northern Illinois team that has designs on making it to a bowl game this season as well.
CMU QB Dan LeFevour is expected back in the starting lineup
Central Michigan (7-2, 5-0 MAC) at Northern Illinois (5-4, 4-2 MAC), 8:00 pm ET
Site: Huskie Stadium
Series: Northern Illinois leads 22-20-1. Last meeting: Central Michigan 35, Northern Illinois 10 in 2007.
Scouting the Chippewas:
Central Michigans 37-34 victory over Indiana seems like a distant memory after an eleven-day layoff between games. But the time off has helped the Chips get a bit healthier entering their game at Northern Illinois. Quarterback Dan LeFevour is expected back in the starting lineup although he is listed as a game time decision after giving his ailing ankle time to heal. LeFevour sat out the Chips win over Indiana but the offense did not suffer in the least with backup QB Brian Brunner setting a team record with 485 yards passing in the victory. The Chips have very little fall-off between their quarterbacks. LeFevour has passed for 11 TDs and has completed two-thirds of his passes while Brunner is completing 64.4% of his passes for six touchdowns and two picks. Not a bad backup option to have. The Chips receiving corps is paced by the tandem of Antonio Brown and Bryan Anderson. Anderson is third in the MAC averaging 83.8 yards per game while Brown is third in receptions, averaging 6.67 catches per game. The Chips offense is averaging 408.2 yards per game with most of that through the air (289.1 yards per game) as the rushing attack continues to be hit or miss, averaging only 119.1 yards per game with LeFevour the teams top rusher with 329 yards, ahead of second-place Ontario Sneeds 322 yards. Freshman Bryan Schroeder has appeared in four games, two as a starter, and has gained 171 yards, but 106 of those yards were in one game, against Western MichiganThe defense for the Chips has been steadily improving but has still proven susceptible to the pass, giving up a league-worst 272.1 yards per game but only 139 yards per game on the ground, however with teams finding the airways open against the Chips, that is a bit deceiving. The defense will also welcome back an injured starter as DT Casey Droscha is expected back despite suffering a torn ACL against Western Michigan. DE Frank Zombo has been a solid playmaker this season for the Chips defense and is second in the MAC with seven sacks and tops the MAC with 13.5 tackles for loss. Zombo will be a critical component in pressuring NIUs young quarterback.
Scouting the Huskies:
The Huskies have been one of the better turnaround stories in the NCAA this season. After finishing 2-10 last season, first year head coach Jerry Kill has the Huskies one-win away from bowl eligibility. NIU has been getting it done primarily on defense this season, allowing only 17.1 points per game while topping the MAC in rushing defense (118.2 yards per game), pass defense (178.1 yards per game) and total defense (296.3 yards per game) but were badly exposed against Ball State when Nate Davis scorched the Huskies secondary for 300 yards and four touchdowns in Ball States 45-14 victory before Davis was benched midway through the fourth quarter. Going up against the Chips pass-happy spread attack could spell further trouble for the Huskies D which is led by defensive end Larry English who is currently the NCAAs all-time active leader in tackles for loss and sack yardageThe offense has seen several faces taking turns at quarterback and running back this season. Freshman Chandler Harnish has returned to the starting role at QB and has emerged as a legitimate dual-threat, rushing for 266 yards while passing for 765 yards and five touchdowns in six games this season while throwing only three interceptions. Another NIU freshman, MeCo Brown, has also emerged as a leader on offense, topping the Huskies rushing attack with 481 yards, averaging five yards per carry. Carrying the load with Brown this season has been Chad Spann who has a team-high five rushing touchdowns and is averaging a solid 5.1 yards per carry this season. WR Marcus Perez has been the Huskies top pass receiving threat this season, topping the team with 21 receptions. No Huskies WR however has recorded more than two touchdown receptions this season for a passing attack that is dead-last in the MAC, averaging only 151.9 yards per game and has accounted for only six touchdowns in nine games.
Prediction: With wins against Northern Illinois tonight, and Ball State next Wednesday in Mt. Pleasant, the Chippewas would clinch their third-straight MAC West title but they will have to win in a place Wednesday night where they have not won a game since before any member of their current roster was even born. Northern Illinois has won the last eight contests at home against the Chippewas, going back to 1977 but that is nearly ancient history. We are more compelled by the Chips current play which has been rather impressive, and the Chips seem primed for a showdown next week with Ball State. The Huskies will have a difficult time containing the Chips passing attack while the Huskies offensive attack will likely put up some points but not enough to match the Chips firepower. Key player to watch: CMUs Antonio Brown on special teams and at wide receiver. Brown has been the Chips spark-plug this season and has a way of turning games around in a hurry.
Central Michigan 33, Northern Illinois 24.