Western Michigan Broncos (1-10, 1-6 MAC) at No. 14 Northern Illinois Huskies (11-0, 7-0 MAC)
Huskie Stadium -- DeKalb, IL
Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013 -- 7 ET (6 CT)
Television: ESPN2, ESPN3 (streaming)
Radio: 96.5 FM (Kalamazoo), 670 AM (Chicago/DeKalb)
The No. 14 Northern Illinois Huskies play their fifth, and final, home game this Tuesday when the Western Michigan Broncos (1-10, 1-6 MAC) come to Huskie Stadium. Once again, it is a battle of teams on opposite sides of the standings. NIU is rolling, winners of 25 straight home games, 15 straight road games, and 24 straight MAC games, including beating two of the MAC's best - Ball State and Toledo - in consecutive weeks. Western has struggled all season long but has played close in their last three games, each decided by 5 or less points. However, the Broncos were only able to win one of those games (a 31-30 thriller against UMass that came down to a final minute 2-point conversion).
The Broncos rank 100 or worse, out of 125, in a few important categories such as rushing yards (108th), points for (118th), and points against (109th). They are also a meager 78th in passing yard. Needless to say, they will have their hands full against Jordan Lynch and the Huskies this week. WMU is managing just 215 passing yards per game, and with Tyler Van Tubbergen still out indefinitely with a shoulder injury, Zach Terrell will get his 6th start of the season. The freshman, Terrell, has been a mixed bag for the Broncos this season. He has thrown for 1463 yards but only completes 53% of his passes and has eight touchdowns and eight picks. They do have a strong duo of halfbacks, with Dareyon Chance and Brian Fields each having over 135 totes and a combined 1210 yards and eight TDs. But most of their offense rests on the hands of WR Corey Davis, who has over 25% of the team's receptions, over a third of their receiving yards, and half of their touchdown receptions. Davis, who's just 87 yards shy of 1000, had a streak of three straight 100-yard games snapped last week by CMU. The Chips held him to just 3 grabs for 40 yards after he averaged 8 grabs and 123 yards, and had 4 TDs, the previous three games. NIU has a lax secondary and he should be able to pick up some yards this week, and possibly get above that 100-yard mark.
As poorly as their offense has played...the defense has matched them game for game. WMU is giving up over 35 points per game - this week they play the seventh best scoring offense (NIU scores 43.7 points/game), which is one reason the Huskies are 34.5 point favorites in the game. The other main reason for the large spread, and making matters worse, is the Bronco defense has struggled against the run all year long - allowing 234 rushing yards per game and over 5 yards per carry...the Huskies average just under 310 rushing yards per game. Uh oh.
Northern's defense has actually been getting stronger all season long. Yes, they give up tons of yards. But they have been able to force a lot of turnovers (26, 9th best in the FBS) and force field goals. The Huskies are eighth in turnover margin at +13 (only Buffalo is higher in the MAC, at +15) and have turned it on in the second half game after game.
The Broncos might have sighed when they heard that Tommylee Lewis and Da'ron Brown are questionable for the game but NIU's offense showed last week just how dominating they can be...even without their two best receivers. The Huskies still managed 35 points and over 560 yards against a very solid Toledo defense. So even if Lewis and Brown are ruled out for this game as well, the Huskies should still rack up the yards and points.
If the Huskies can win, like they should, it would mark the third time in four years that they swept the MAC in the regular season. It would also mark the first time NIU would ever finish the regular season undefeated as a FBS school (they went 9-0 in 1963 and won their bowl game to get to 10-0, but they were a NAIA team then). Also huge for NIU this week was the release of the BCS Standings - where they jumped another hopeful BCS-buster, Fresno State. Fresno fell to 16th and the Huskies climbed to 14th - the highest they have been since 2003, when they reached tenth. There is a lot on the line for the Huskies these next two weeks...they can't afford to overlook Western Michigan. It could be a trap game, with the MAC Championship looming on December 6th. But Lynch and the Huskies should take this one easily.