The most notable characteristic of the Northern Illinois football team, which currently is ranked No.23 and boasts a 6-0 record, is not found in any statistical ledger. The key aspect of the current enviable success enjoyed by the Huskie football program is continuity. NIU has continuity had its genesis during the helm of legendary head coach Joe Novak, who instilled the Huskie Way or the "Hard Way". What the Hard Way has meant to the current Huskies squad is that they continue to click and play for each other no matter who is on the sidelines wearing headphones.
Northern Illinois does come into Kelly/Shorts Stadium on Saturday boasting a string of impressive statistics. The Huskies are undefeated in the MAC, have a 2-0 record against Big Ten teams, have won 19 consecutive games against MAC opponents and have twelve consecutive wins in road games.
Senior quarterback Jordan Lynch is the motor that makes the Huskies' machine go. Lynch is truly a dual threat having thrown for 1,333 yards and 13 touchdowns and run for 616 yards and four touchdowns. Lynch is supported by a compliment of running backs, including Cameron Stingily, who has been a pleasant surprise for NIU this season and currently leads the team in rushing yards and touchdowns.
CMU freshman quarterback Cooper Rush will have his hands full trying to avoid unintended completions to Huskies' safety Jimmie Ward, whose notable ball hawking skills include five interceptions in the last six games. NIU's defense has forced at least one turnover in every game this season.
Turnovers have been an achilles heel for the Chippewas The main factor in tough losses to UNLV and MAC West rival Toledo was their inability to hang on to the football. CMU is 3-4 on the season.
The Chips were forced to go with the tenderfoot Rush after first string quarterback Cody Kater was injured in the first quarter of the first game and highly touted backup, Alex Niznak, fizzled. To his credit, young Rush has persevered through a traumatic learning process that included a string of costly interceptions and fumbles. As of late, Rush's teammates have rallied around him resulting in come from behind victories at Miami and again last week in an upset of Ohio.
Saylor Lavallii will be a marked man on Saturday with all eyes on the Huskie defense fixed squarely on the sophomore running back. Lavallii has been a savant this year, having three 100 yard rushing performances. Last week, he blistered the Ohio Bobcats' defense for a career high 184 yards.
The stealth weapon for the CMU offense is the receiving corps. With star receiver Titus Davis out last week and likely to be shelved again this week, a host of CMU receivers have stepped in to fill the void left. Courtney Williams caught the game winning touchdown pass with 0:22 left in the game at Ohio last week. Senior Connor Odykirk and junior Deon Butler have proven to be reliable targets for their young quarterback.
On defense the Chips are going to need another stellar performance from Kavon Frazier, who has three interceptions, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery through seven games. Freshman defensive end Blake Serpa delivered a key hit to Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton late in last week's game.
For CMU head coach Dan Enos, there is no pressure. Saturday's game against NIU is only the most important MAC contest so far during his four year tenure. Chippewa fans finally have a meaningful MAC home game to look forward to in the month of October.
Life is good. The Big Dogs are invading Kelly/Shorts Stadium. It is Homecoming for CMU and the place will be rocking. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. Saturday. The game will be available for live streaming on ESPN3.