The Northern Illinois Huskies (8-3, 6-1) will travel to Mt. Pleasant where they face their kryptonite - the Central Michigan Chippewas (7-4, 5-2) - this Friday in the regular season finale for both teams.
NIU is still clinging on for a possible trip to the MAC Championship game and, with a win against CMU and a Toledo loss, they will represent the West. CMU, however, has other plans and has been a thorn in the side of the Huskies for quite some time now.
The Chips, who lead the series 28-23-1, have won the last three meetings and have been one of the few MAC teams to have success against the Huskies recently - going 7-3 against NIU since 2008.
When NIU has the ball...
The Huskies are averaging just under 400 yards and 30.7 points per game. Under QB Marcus Childers there has been a nice boost to the NIU offense as he can hurt you with his arm and his legs. This year in his seven starts he has accounted for 1753 total yards (1312 passing and 441 rushing) and 19 touchdowns (14 through the air and five rushing) while only throwing three interceptions.
As we’ve been saying all season, he’s been throwing to the five headed monster that is the NIU receiving core. Spencer Tears, D.J. Brown, Christian Blake, Chad Beebe, and Shane Wimann are all within six catches of each other. Tears leads all Huskies in yards, with 420, while D.J. Brown leads in receptions (35 with both Tears and Blake having 34), and tight end Wimann has the most scores with seven TD grabs.
On the ground, look for Jordan Huff to make an impact. The senior running back has 692 yards and four touchdowns on just 116 carries (an average of 6 yards per rush). But Marcus Jones has been a nice backup adding 336 and three scores of his own on his 78 touches.
They will be facing a defense that can give up yardage - allowing 389.1 yards and 27 points per game. They are led by a pair of junior linebackers - Alex Briones and Malik Fountain - who have 75 and 77 tackles on the season. Briones also has three sacks, three picks, three fumble recoveries, and a forced fumbles.
But if their linebackers aren’t scary enough, up front they have big Joe Ostman. Ostman has 56 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, and four forced fumbles. He’s a huge impact player that can cause a lot of damage. NIU’s O-line will need to keep him in check to win.
CMU’s defense can also force turnovers. They have forced an amazing 29 turnovers this year with 12 fumbles and 17 interceptions! Offenses beware!
When CMU has the ball...
The Chips are one of the few MAC schools that haven’t used an abundance of QBs this season. For the most part it’s been all Shane Morris. Morris has been effective - completing 55.9% of his passes for 2661 yards and 23 TDs - but he has made some mistakes, throwing 12 interceptions.
His main target has been Mark Chapman who leads the team in catches (51) and yardage (731), and has also found the end zone four times. But it’s been Corey Willis that has done the most damage. Willis has a team-high eight touchdowns on his 39 grabs that have gone for 587 yards.
On the ground expect a steady dose of Johnathan Ward. The sophomore has 731 yards on 146 carries and scampered in for eight touchdowns.
However...they take on a defense that is best in the MAC and top-20 in the country. NIU allows just 322.7 yards per game and 19.9 points per game.
If CMU’s Joe Ostman has been good this season then NIU’s Sutton Smith has been outstanding. Smith, a sophomore defensive end, leads the nation in sacks (14) and tackles for loss (27.5!)...both NIU single-season records. Plus he also has 5 QBH, three pass break ups, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and two defensive touchdowns!
As a unit NIU’s defense has 38 sacks, 10 more than anyone else in the MAC, and gives up a mere 2.7 yards per rush attempt. So look for Smith and company to get pressure on both Morris and Ward.
When: Friday, November 24th at 12 p.m. (11 a.m. CST)
Where: Kelly/Shorts Stadium — Mt. Pleasant, MI
Network: CBSSports Network
Spread: NIU -3
ESPN FPI Predictor: NIU has a 55.7% chance to win
All-time: CMU 28-23-1; At CMU: CMU leads 17-9