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2023 MAC Football Week 10 Preview: Northern Illinois Huskies at Central Michigan Chippewas

The Huskies look to stay one game back of Toledo while the Chips look to end NIU’s MAC title hopes for good

Central Michigan v Notre Dame Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Midweek #MACtion returns on Tuesday night when the Central Michigan Chippewas host the Northern Illinois Huskies in a pivotal MAC West battle.

Northern Illinois (4-4, 3-1 MAC) enters the game on 10 days rest and riding a three game winning streak. The Huskies are looking to stay just one game back of, or pull even with, the Toledo Rockets in the West. NIU would be tied with the Rockets (but Toledo owns the tie-breaker) atop the MAC West if they get some help from Buffalo later that same night.

The Chippewas (4-4, 2-2 MAC) have split the last four games but have struggled offensively as of late. They haven’t scored more than 17 points in over a month, on September 30th, and are coming off a tough loss to Ball State.

Game notes

  • Time and date: Tuesday, October 31 at 7:00 p.m. ET
  • Network: ESPNU
  • Location: Kelly/Shorts Stadium — Mount Pleasant, MI
  • Spread: NIU (-3)
  • Over/under: 46
  • All-time series: CMU leads, 32-25-1
  • Last meeting: CMU 35, NIU 22 — November 2, 2022
  • Last 5 meetings: CMU leads 3-2

Getting to know the Huskies

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 09 NIU at Western Michigan Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In a shocking twist from the previous few years, the Huskies enter the game with one of the nation’s best defenses. NIU ranks 19th in total defense, allowing just 310.4 yards per game, and their secondary has been lights out this season. The Huskies are sixth in the NCAA in passing defense, with opponents gaining a mere 163.6 yards per game through the air, they also rank 11th in defensive passing efficiency, and Northern’s defensive backs have intercepted nine passes, which is 24th best in the FBS.

Nate Valcarcel has been a the leader of the secondary, with a team-high three interceptions. He also has 29 total stops, a TFL, a quarterback hurry, a pass break up, and a 50-yard fumble return for a touchdown. Cyrus McGarrell and JaVaughn Byrd aren’t far behind Valcarcel, as each has two picks and 15 tackles, with Byrd adding a forced fumble and a pair of pass break ups.

Jaden Dolphin and Devin Lafayette have also been great from their hybrid linebacker-safety positon. They rank second and third in tackles, with 40 and 30, respectively. Dolphin has three PBUs while Lafayette has two forced fumbles and 1.5 TFL.

Up front NIU has been able to get pressure with quite a few players. George Gumbs leads the team with 3.5 sacks but Devonte O’Malley (3), Roy Williams (3), and James Ester (2.5) are close behind. Ester and Ray Thomas have been all over. Thomas leads all Huskies with 46 tackles and five quarterback hurries to go with his 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, a pass break up. Ester is tied for fourth on the team with 29 tackles but has the most TFLs (5) and also has a fumble recovery.

Offensively the Huskies have looked better over the last month. In the last four games, quarterback Rocky Lombardi has completed 69 of his 102 pass attempts (65.7%) and thrown for 794 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. He has also rushed for two touchdowns. On the entire season Lombardi has completed 58.4% of his throws for 1360 yards and has six TDs to four interceptions, while being sacked 13 times.

His main target, Kacper Rutkiewicz, is still out so he has been spreading the ball around to a plethora of Huskies. Grayson Barnes, Trayvon Rudolph, Davis Patterson, Chris Carter, and Jalen Johnson all have over 100 yards on the season. Barnes and Rudolph are closing in on Rutkiewicz’s number and have 255 yards and 212 yards, respectively, with Barnes netting two TDs to Rudolph’s one.

On the ground, NIU utilizes a pair of backs - Antario Brown and Gavin Williams. Brown is the feature back and has 676 yards (36th most in the NCAA, 3rd in the MAC) and six touchdowns on his 115 carries. Gavin Williams has carried it 55 times for 277 yards and three scores but also has been big in the passing game, with 17 receptions (third most on the team) for 104 yards.

Getting to know the Chippewas

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 07 Central Michigan at Buffalo Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Central Michigan has been involved in five one score games. Four of those have been wins for the Chips, with the only loss coming last week against BSU. So if CMU keeps it close, they’re a tough team to beat. However, they have also had three 24-point losses this season.

Over the last three games the Chips have struggled to run the ball, netting just 99, 117, and 80 yards against Ball State, Akron, and Buffalo. Like the Huskies, CMU also uses a pair of half backs on the ground. Myles Bailey, who is expected to play this week after missing last week, leads the way with 360 yards on 87 carries and has three scores. Right behind him is Marion Lukes who has netted 260 yards and two TDs on his 72 touches. But Central also has a scrambling quarterback that can make some moves on the ground.

With Bert Emanuel Jr. still out, CMU will be using Jase Bauer at quarterback again this week. Bauer has completed 58.4% of his throws for 1221 yards and five touchdowns. He also leads the team in rushing TDs, with seven, and has added an additional 223 yards on 70 carries. However, over the past three games Bauer has thrown five interceptions and he’s been sacked ten times on the year.

The Chips have a trio of dangerous receivers in Jesse Prewitt III, Chris Parker, and Tyson Davis. And Lukes has also been a big help in the passing game. Prewitt III leads the team in receptions (26), receiving yards (379), and touchdowns (4) while Parker has 270 yards and a pair of TDs on his 17 grabs and Davis has amassed 251 yards and two TDs on his 20 catches. Lukes has 23 grabs for 228 yards out of the backfield.

CMU will likely be without their two leading tacklers, as linebacker Kyle Moretti is out with a knee injury and defensive back Donte Kent is questionable. Moretti leads the team with 56 tackles and has two sacks, while Kent has 47 stops and four pass break ups.

Without Kent, the secondary will look to Trey Jones, who also has 47 total tackles but has added 2.5 TFL, a pick, a forced fumble, and a PBU.

Up front, Maurice White and Jacques Bristol will look to get into the backfield. White leads the team in sacks (3.5) while Bristol tops all Chips in TFL (6). Overall Bristol has 29 tackles, six TFL, three sacks, four QBH, and a PBU while White has 14 tackles, five for loss, four quarterback hurries, and a fumble recovery.