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Five Things Learned: NIU 24, CMU 31

What can we take away from CMU’s comeback win on Friday?

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Boston College Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

The Central Michigan Chippewas came back from a 17-0 halftime deficit and beat the Northern Illinois Huskies 31-24 yesterday afternoon. But what did we learn from the game?

1. The Huskies’ defense is not infallible

NIU gave up 386 yards against the Chips...the vast majority came in the second half as CMU managed to outscore NIU 31-7 in the in the final 30 minutes. The usually stout run defense allowed CMU halfback Jonathan Ward to run free in the second half, as he piled up 159 yards on 21 carries (he had just 5 yards at half time but exploded for 154 in the final two quarters). Shane Morris also threw for three TDs despite completing just 51.3% of his passes.

NIU should make a bowl game and we’ll see if that defense is back to normal then. However, at 0-4 under Rod Carey, a bowl win is very unlikely.

2. CMU remains NIU’s kryptonite

The MAC has struggled against NIU since 2008. Well...everyone except Central Michigan.

Once again, CMU brings NIU back down to earth as the Chippewas are now 8-3 against NIU in since ‘08, by far the best in the MAC. No one else can seem to stop the Huskies on a consistent basis except for those pesky Mt. Pleasant boys...maybe it’s time that Huskie fans worry more about the boys in maroon and gold and less about those from Toledo?

3. Rod Carey can’t figure how to play offense

What’s the one consistent thing from every NIU win this year? Defense. And it’s new to the Huskies this season. It’s why they’re 8-4 instead of 5-7 like last year. Sure, Carey has done well to improve the defense this year...but he can’t find an offense to save his life. And it has showed throughout his tenure at NIU.

In 2013, his first season, NIU averaged 39.6 points per game...then it went down to 31.5, then 31.1, then 30.5, and now to 30.17 this year...but don’t forget, the defense has scored FIVE times this season which means the defense is accounting for 11% of all NIU touchdowns (5 of 45) and the offense itself is putting up just 27.25 points per game.

Despite NIU’s top-20 defense they still find themselves in forth place in the MAC under Rod Carey; which means, for him, defense doesn’t win championships...at least not when your offense can’t move the ball at all.

4. Ostman and Smith are elite players this year

CMU’s Joe Ostman and NIU’s Sutton Smith came into the game two of the top defensive players this year when it came to getting stops in the backfield. Both added to their totals.

Ostman, who was tied for third in sacks (11) and had 16.5 tackles for loss this year, was able to force a lot of pressure against NIU and added two TFL and a sack to his yearly total. Anytime you can have a sack per game and 1.5 TFL per game it’s a good year.

And if Ostman is having a good year, than Smith is having an AMAZING season.

Smith entered the week as the NCAA’s leader in sacks and TFL. Against CMU he had another sack and added a TFL too.

As the season comes to a close, Smith has finished with 14 sacks and (an unheard of) 28.5 tackles for loss! He will remain the leader in TFL and sacks as long as NC State’s Bradley Chubb doesn’t get 5 TFL/4 sacks today and Arkansas State’s Ja'Von Rolland-Jones doesn’t manage four sacks in the next two weeks.

5. Both NIU and CMU should be locked into bowl games

The good news for both teams is that the Ohio Bobcats lost to the Buffalo Bulls this week. The MAC, which has four automatic bowl bids, will give the top two games to Toledo and Akron but the remaining two should both be given to these teams, who are both 6-2 in the MAC, now a game better than Ohio.

I say should because who knows what will take place...but this shouldn’t be the last you see of these teams this year.