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2020 Mid-American Conference Football Week 2 Game Preview: Northern Illinois Huskies at Central Michigan Chippewas

CMU has had NIU’s number in recent years, winning four of the last five meetings. Can NIU pull off an upset on home turf?

NCAA Football: Northern Illinois at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Game Info

When: Wednesday, November 11 at 8 p.m. (EST)

Where: Huskie Stadium, in DeKalb, Illinois

Watch/Stream: ESPNU, with streaming on the ESPN App (valid cable subscription required.)

Weather: Clear and 36 degrees at kickoff, with calm winds, per Weather.com.

Odds: CMU is a 3.5-point road favroite, with the over/under at 57.5, per OddsShark.


Series History

This annual division clash continues apace, with CMU owning a 30-24-1 advantage in the series, which has been played every year since 1997 (upon NIU’s re-acceptance into the MAC), and had its first meeting back in 1939, with the then-named Central Michigan College of Education Bearcats taking a 6-0 victory over the Northern Illinois State Normal School Evansmen in Mt. Pleasant.

(In case you were wondering: CMC was 8-1 in 1939, the best record of the college football independents that season, including #13 Notre Dame. NISNS finished 5-2-1 in Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play in 1939, finishing third in the league.)

Last year’s contest saw CMU put NIU to sleep early in a 38-10 victory, a game where CMU exploded for over 600 yards of offense and scored all 28 points in the first half of the game. It was a lovely revenge game, as NIU had broken the Chips’ four-game win streak in the infamous 2018 season, where CMU finished a program-worst 1-11.

Here are the historical numbers for the series at large, with all numbers courtesy of Winsipedia:

Largest margin of victory:

  • NIU: 49-0 (2002)
  • Central Michigan: 69-7 (1975)

Longest win streak:

  • NIU: 9 games (1998-2006)
  • Central Michigan: 8 games (1952-1959)

Current streak:

  • Central Michigan, 1 (2019)

The Chippewas

Quick Facts (2020 stats, through Week 1):

  • Points per game: 30
  • Points allowed: 27
  • Total yards: 427 (243 passing, 184 rushing)
  • Yards allowed: 345 (235 passing, 110 rushing)

The Chippewas faced adversity late in the first half against the Bobcats and managed to find a way to pull out a victory at home at the end of the day, as all-MAC linebacker Troy Brown preserved a slim CMU lead in the final seconds of the game with a perfectly-timed pass break-up to take the win.

Finding themselves down 27-20 in the opening seconds of the second half after a pair of De’Montre Tuggle touchdowns in just under a minute of game time, the Chippewas defenses hunkered down, preventing Ohio’s offense from scoring—or applying any pressure at all until the end of the proceedings— thanks in part to five team sacks, including three from Troy Hairston, and two fumble recoveries, both in the second half.

George Douglas led the linebackers in this game, with nine tackles and a fumble recovery, while the end duo of Hairston and Amit Siddiq combined for all five of CMU’s sacks, nine tackles-for-loss and nine tackles. That is promising news for the future of the defense, as starting defensive end LaQuan Johnson is out for the season with a knee injury suffered ealy in the game.

The offense certainly did help contribute to the victory, pulling off several long scoring drives to choke away the clock, including a 16-play, 75-yard beauty in the first series of the game which took up over half the first quarter.

Daniel Richardson looked comfortable as the starting QB, finishing 23-of-41 for 243 passing yards and two total touchdowns (one rush, one pass,) while showing off a rocket arm on several occasions, including a 50-yard strike to Kalil Pimpleton. Kobe Lewis handled the majority of CMU’s carries, finishing with 28 rushes for 115 yards and two touchdowns of his own.

For CMU, they don’t look to have lost a step at all from 2019, with 427 yards of total offense in last week’s game. The defense also looked fairly good, recovering from several stumbles in the first half to limit Ohio to just over 12 minutes of possession, with four punts, two fumbles, a missed field goal and a turnover-on-downs to show for it.

They come into this game vs. NIU looking to prove they were better than their three-point win in Week 1 would suggest, and given NIU allowed nearly 50 points to Buffalo, it could be ripe pickings.


The Huskies

Quick Facts (2020 stats, through Week 1):

  • Points per game: 30
  • Points allowed: 49
  • Total yards: 397 (241 passing, 156 rushing)
  • Yards allowed: 357 (175 passing, 182 rushing)

NIU had the nisfortune to draw the MAC title favorite Buffalo in their lone cross-over match of the season in Week 1, and suffered a 49-30 loss as a result of the meeting.

It wasn’t all bad though, as the Huskies showed some offensive prowess at the end of the halves, picking up three touchdowns in the last five minutes of the second and fourth quarters to score 21 of their 30 points, Unfortunately, that ultimately means naught when the offense also gave Buffalo a 21-point buffer in the form of three defensive touchdowns, incuding a pick-six by Kadofi Wright and two fumble return touchdowns.

They finished with 397 yards of offense overall, thanks in part to Ross Bowers’ 202 yards through the air on 17-of-28 passing, with a touchdown to Cole Tucker and 187 yards rushing from their RB committee. Over half of Bowers’ offensive production went directly to Tyrice Richie, who showed out with a nine reception, 106 yard performance.

Speaking of the running back question for NIU, it seems to be up in the air, with seven different Huskies registering rushing stats and three different Huskies scoring a touchdown, including RB Erin Collins and two QB’s in Rod Thompson and Andrew Haidet. For now, Harrsion Waylee and Collins are considered the lead backs, with the duo combining for 29 carries and 115 yards.

On defense, the Huskies were hard pressed to get pressure in the passing game—or the running game for that matter, as the team mustered only two tackles-for-loss and gave up 182 yards rushing in the loss. Linebacker Nick Rattin lead both teams in tackling (10 total tackles,) but with the next highest contributor with five tackles, it was a rough day at the office. They’re not going to get any favors this week, facing up one of the most balanced offenses in the MAC in Central Michigan.

The Huskies will get to be the host, at least, as they’ll hope to catch CMU nervy in their first road trip of the year. For them to be competitive, they’ll have to limit their mistakes offensively. Were it not for those foibles, NIU could have pulled off a shocking upset in Week 1. Instead, they were trying to climb out of a three-score lead late.


Prediction

It’s hard not to see Central winning the game when you look across the talent position-by-position.

But if there’s one thing to take away that’s positive for NIU, it’s that when they had their offense clicking, it was pretty hard to stop, scoring 21 points when they needed it most at the end of halves. CMU also showed they were vulnerable at points, giving up two back-to-back touchdowns in quick succession and relying on fourth-down attempts deep in enemy territory due to a lack of trust in their true freshman kicker.

CMU has a tendency to “play to a number,” which is a way of saying that if they go off-schedule with their offensive efficiency, a team could reasonably apply pressure and force mistakes. This will have to be a focal point for NIU in practice this week, as the Chippewas will try to find a number of ways to confuse them from a play design standpoint.

The key matchup here will be between CMU’s receivers and NIU’s defensive backs. CMU was slow to get going out of the gate vs. Ohio, with leading receiver Kalil Pimpleton held to just 65 yards—50 of which were on one completion. NIU’s defensive backs managed two pass breakups and an interception vs. Buffalo, which is fairly decent. But it’s still an extremely green squad facing one of the more experienced receiver corps in the MAC. They’ll have a tough assignment facing two all-MAC first-team seniors in starters Pimpleton and JaCorey Sullivan, as well as security blanket Dallas Dixon and speedster Tyrone Scott exhanging roles at the slot receiver.

Personally, I feel the final score might not be indicative of how close the game could ultimately go. Oddsmakers have this matchup as a one-score game, which could be feasible in an NIU upset bid. But if CMU emerges victorious, it’ll be by a double-digit margin.