Ypsilanti, MI – The 24th-ranked Northern Illinois Huskies look to extend their FBS leading conference winning streak to 15 in a row as they invade Rynearson Stadium for their regular-season finale against their Mid-American Conference rival Eastern Michigan Eagles.
Northern Illinois has finally made its way back into the top 25, and for good reason. NIU has been dominant in recent history and is the only team in the FBS with 19 wins in its last 20 games. Despite the unparalleled success, the team is staying focused.
"It's a tremendous privilege to be ranked, but we still have to play our game," said cornerback Rashaan Melvin. "It tells us we're one of the best teams in the country. In order to continue to be ranked, we must keep winning."
The Huskies punched their ticket to the MAC Championship game for a third straight season last Wednesday with a 31-24 victory over Toledo. The triumph over the Rockets was NIU's 10th straight win overall, 21st straight win at home, and 14th straight over a MAC rival. The team has not been defeated since its season opener on Nov. 1, when it fell 18-17 to Iowa at Soldier Field. Coach Dave Doeren has a very impressive 21-4 record since taking over the helm of the program.
The Eagles will be ending their 2012 season in this one as the dream of a postseason berth died weeks ago. EMU made it evident it will play hard down the stretch as it took down Western Michigan, 29-26, for its first MAC win of the season. Coach Ron English and his team have won back-to-back games yet this year and there is no doubt that English would love to send off his 18 seniors with a win over a ranked opponent after compiling a 2-9 overall record to this point.
This will be the 43rd meeting between these schools in history. NIU holds a 26-14-2 edge after its 18-12 victory last season in DeKalb.
NIU leads the MAC in both scoring offense and total offense with averages of 39.7 points and 488.7 total offensive yards per game. The offense revolves around junior quarterback Jordan Lynch, who set a pair of NCAA records in last week's win over Toledo. Lynch became the first quarterback in FBS history to pass for more than 400 yards and rush for more than 150 yards in a single game and also became the first quarterback in FBS history to run for 100 yards or more in nine straight games. Lynch is closing in on Michigan QB Denard Robinson's single season rushing record by a quarterback, but his head coach firmly believes he is much more than just a scrambler.
"Obviously, Jordan's game to run for over 150 yards and throw for over 400 is something that has never been done in college football, which says a lot," said Doeren. "There have been a lot of great quarterbacks that have played this game and that have played since the invention of the spread. I think he has shown now that he is more than just a runner in multiple games."
Lynch ranks third in the nation in rushing yards (1,504), total offense (4,086), and points responsible for (38 total TDs).
Martel Moore is Lynch's primary target in the passing game. Moore has reeled in 58 passes for 899 yards and 10 of the team's 23 touchdown receptions. Tommylee Lewis (459) and Ashford Perez (299) have both made their mark in the passing attack as well.
Defensively, NIU allows opponents to gain decent yardage but still manages to keep teams from lighting up the scoreboard. Due to their bend but not break mentality, the Huskies have the second best scoring defense (18.5) in the MAC.
Sean Progar, Joe Windsor, and Alan Baxter are a three-headed monster when it comes to attacking opposing quarterbacks and ball carriers. Progar has recorded eight sacks and 9.5 total tackles for loss, Windsor has 10 TFLs and 6.5 sacks, Baxter has produced 8.5 sacks and 10.5 TFLs. Jimmie Ward (81) and Tyrone Clark (74) are first and second on the team in total tackles, respectively.
The Eagles had a solid offensive performance for the second week in a row as the racked up 369 yards of total offense without a single turnover versus Western Michigan. EMU still has the worst total offense (345.4) and second lowest scoring offense (22.6 ppg) in the conference.
Bronson Hill showed he is the best option on the offensive unit by producing a two-game outburst to spark the Eagles' attack earlier in the season. Hill had never rushed the ball more than four times in a game in his career before compiling 283 yards and four touchdowns on 28 rushes against Toledo. The sophomore was a duel threat with 77 rushing yards and 59 receiving yards his last time out.
The quarterback position has not been very stable for the Eagles this season. Alex Gillett, who started the past three seasons, was benched early on in the season. Tyler Benz came in and showed promise before dropping into an ugly slump. English then decided to keep both quarterbacks on the field as Gillett's speed allows him to play wideout as well.
Last week, Gillett contributed in numerous ways as he carried the ball nine times for 60 rushing yards, made five receptions for 45 yards with a touchdown, and completed a 37-yard pass on his only throw. Benz did a solid job under center by passing for 137 yards and two touchdowns without an interception.
Garrett Hoskins is the primary weapon in EMU's passing attack. His season totals of 36 receptions and 524 yards are more than double the combined statistics of the team's second and third leading receivers.
The Eagles' defense has struggled all season long, surrendering 485.6 yards and 36.6 points per game. The biggest concern for coach English going into a game against Lynch has to be his rush defense, which ranks last in the FBS with an allowed average of 269.3 yards.
Justin Cudworth is leading the Eagles with 85 total stops. Last week, Bryan Pali and Alex Bellfy both made 10 tackles to tie for the team-lead. Bellfy also recovered a fumble.