October 22, 2010

Central Michigan vs. Northern Illinois Preview

Sitting at 2-5 overall, Central Michigan can ill afford any more losses if they hope to push their consecutive bowl streak to five years. While last week's heartbreaking 27-20 loss to Miami (OH) in the final seconds is still hanging over the program, the Chippewas will get no break as they take on the MAC's top team in Northern Illinois. The Huskies sit at 5-2 overall and have a victory over Big Ten foe Minnesota on their belt, and it appears that they are clicking on all cylinders as they have won their last four games. And don't think for a second that Northern Illinois is going to overlook the Chippewas, as evidenced by NIU head coach Jerry Kill's recent comments.

"Our seniors have not beaten Central [Michigan] in the last three meetings. We should be focused. We have no other reason for anything other than that."




NORTHERN ILLINOIS OFFENSE

The Huskies rank No.1 in the MAC in scoring offense as they average 30.7 points per game, and much of that has to do with a pair of seniors in quarterback Chandler Harnish and running back Chad Spann. Harnish has been the MAC's top quarterback this season as he has thrown for 1,087 yards on 93 of 138 attempts, a ridiculous 67% completion percentage. He has thrown for 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions and continues to be a dual threat as he has added 513 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. Spann leads the Huskies in rushing with 773 yard and 8 touchdowns on 137 carries, and he averages 5.5 yards per carry. While it's clear Harnish and Spann make the gears go for Northern Illinois, they have not been a two man show.

Harnish and Spann are talented runners, but even they would admit they are aided by perhaps the MAC's best offensive line. OT Trevor Olson and OG Joe Pawlak lead the MAC's best rushing attack as the Huskies average 242 yards per game on the ground, and the NIU offensive line has allowed just 8 sacks all season. They're big, strong and talented, and they have been able to move just about anyone off the line of scrimmage in 2010.

Leading the wide receiver core is 6-foot-2 sophomore Martel Moore. Moore leads the Huskies in receptions (22) and has 2 touchdowns on the year. Landon Cox and Willie Clark are two big bodied receivers who have combined for nearly 500 yards and 6 touchdowns receiving on just 33 receptions. Also keep an eye on backup running backs Jasmin Hopkins, a talented speedster, and [/db]Ricky Crider[/db], a powerful senior.

NORTHERN ILLINOIS DEFENSE

While the offense has been churning up yards and points, the Huskies defense has quietly become the MAC's best. They lead the MAC in points allowed per game as opponents average just over 20, and they rank No. 2 in pass defense . Senior LB Alex Kube leads the team in tackles with 44, but it's been a group linebacker effort as sophomores Tyrone Clark and Devon Butler both have over 40 apiece. Despite an offseason injury, 6-foot-5 and 255 pound senior defensive end Jake Coffman leads the team in sacks (2) and tackles for loss (5). Senior corner (and former CMU target) Chris Smith leads the team in interceptions with 2, but the team as a whole has 8.

BY THE NUMBERS: NORTHERN ILLINOIS AND CENTRAL MICHIGAN

* NIU is 3-0 at home, while CMU is 0-3 on the road

* NIU 3rd down percentage: 52%

* CMU somehow has the MAC's No. 1 pass offense with 292.7 yards per game

* NIU has attempted 293 rushes against only 170 passes in 2010

* CMU is 0-5 when QB Ryan Radcliff attempts 35 or more passes

HOW IT SHAKES OUT


CMU head coach Dan Enos alluded to it, and it really is the key to the game. Northern Illinois is going to come out an attempt to run the ball…and run more…and run some more after that. And there is no doubt that the Huskies are going to pop in the Chippewas horrible rush defense effort against Ball State, a game where the Cardinals racked up over 300 yards on the ground, and attempt to replicate that effort. The game is going to boil down to whether CMU can stop the run, and run the ball themselves on offense. NIU ranks in the middle in rush offense in the MAC, but the Chippewas have had little or no success rushing the ball outside of the Eastern Michigan game. It's apparent at this point that CMU quarterback Ryan Radcliff lacks the experience and playmaking ability to win games through the air, so CMU will need a balanced attack and they have to have some success on the ground.

In the end, this game will decide whether NIU takes control of the MAC West race and whether CMU can salvage their season. Unfortunately, the Chippewas are running into a team that seems perfectly suited for exploiting them. NIU may have the two best offensive players in the MAC in Harnish and Spann, and together they should be able to move the ball on a banged up CMU defense. On the flip side, it looks CMU is going to be without leading rusher Paris Cotton and Radcliff is going to have to do something he has never done as a starting quarterback…win a game on the road.
After three straight losses to CMU, expect the streak to stop there as NIU wins a low scoring contest against the Chippewas

PREDICTION

Northern Illinois: 24
Central Michigan: 17


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