Northern Illinois vs UMass Preview: The No. 17 Huskies Look To Extend Their Conference Winning Streak

NIU offensive linemen Andrew Ness (55), Aidan Conlon (61) and Michael Gegner (59) wait to take the field last week against EMU - Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Huskies travel to Foxboro, Massachusetts to take on the Minutemen this Saturday.

#17 Northern Illinois Huskies (8-0, 4-0 MAC) at Massachusetts Minutemen (1-7, 1-3 MAC)
Gillette Stadium -- Foxboro, Massachusetts
Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013 -- Noon ET (11 CT)
Television: ESPN3
Radio: 105.5 FM (WEEI, Springfield, Ma)

The Northern Illinois Huskies, fresh off their rout of Eastern Michigan and ranked 17th in the BCS, will invade Gillette Stadium to take on the UMass Minutemen this Saturday in a game that has the Huskies favored by 23 points. Once again, it is a tale of two teams headed in opposite directions. For the Huskies, they just keep winning. They have their first 8-0 start since 1965. They are playing so well that a BCS berth is still very possible. Sadly, for the Minutemen, they are still struggling to adjust to life as an FBS team, and just lost in heartbreaking fashion last week at home to Western Michigan.

Heisman dark horse and NIU quarterback, Jordan Lynch, continues to do it all for the Huskies. Last week he passed for 223 yards, rushed for 99, and even had a touchdown reception. All in all, he totaled 6 TDs (4 passing, 1 rush, 1 receiving) and had just under 350 total yards. The Huskies continue to pound teams on the ground, as they are 6th in rushing yards (averaging 307.5/game) and 3rd in average per rush (gaining 6.4 yards/carry) - behind only Wisconsin and Oregon. Last week workhorse running back, Cameron Stingily, did not play for the Huskies. Instead, freshman Joel Bouagnon was the primary rusher not named Lynch. Stingily is being rested for the end of the season, so he might not play again this week. UMass certainly would like that. But even without Stingily, wideout Tommylee Lewis has proven he can run and catch. On just 19 carries Lewis has 272 yards, adding to his team leading 58 receptions and 507 yards. However, Da'Ron Brown is right behind him with 480 yards and a team-best 7 touchdown catches.

But not wanting Lynch and the offense to get all the credit, senior safety, Jimmie Ward, has been phenomenal for NIU this season. He leads the team in tackles with 56, has three pass break ups, forced a fumble, and is tied for first in the NCAA with 5 interceptions. For all his efforts, he has just been named a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award (awarded to the best defensive back in the country) and is the only player from a Non-AQ team to be nominated. Ward and the Huskies' defense have continued to get better with every week, including limiting EMU to just 337 yards last week. NIU still ranks in the Top 20 in turnovers gained, averaging 2.25/game. The huskies also are getting to the opposing quarterback, averaging 3 sacks per game - 14th in the country.

After scoring a late TD last week against WMU, the Minutemen had a chance to tie the game in the final 30 seconds. They were down 31-30 and, instead of kicking the extra point to force overtime, they went for a 2-point conversion to win the game. Unfortunately, UMass quarterback, A.J. Doyle, overthrew his receiver and they lost. This week, they probably won't even have that opportunity.

The Minutemen are in the bottom 15 in most categories, and dead last in points - scoring only 10.6 points/game (NIU is 11th, scoring 42 points/game). Doyle, and backup QB Mike Wegzyn, have both struggled this season turning the ball over - with 5 and 3 INTs respectively, to just 7 total TDs. Tajae Sharpe has been their most consistent target, catching 46 passes for 475 yards and 3 TD but senior tight end Rob Blanchflower established himself as a solid option last week after having season highs in receptions and yards (7 for 131 yards and a TD). UMass also has a solid running game. Although nowhere near as prolific as NIU's attack, the Minutemen spread their carries between two main halfbacks. Stacey Bedell and Jamal Wilson each have over 70 carries - with 301 and 275 yards. Freshman Lorenzo Woodley showed last week he can play too - carrying it 16 times for 58 yards and a score.

Last year NIU shut out UMass en route to a 63-0 win. This year, it looks like more of the same, with one tiny difference. Expect the Huskies to leave Foxboro 9-0 with 22 straight wins against the MAC. The Minutemen's defense should struggle mightily against the powerful Huskies' offense - Lynch and the starters might be done by halftime. However, UMass probably will score this year against a unimpressive NIU defense (with the exception of Ward, of course), but not enough to keep it close or interesting.

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