DeKalb, IL (SportsNetwork.com) - The 23rd-ranked Northern Illinois Huskies put their undefeated record on the line once more, this time in a home clash with Mid-American Conference West Division foe Eastern Michigan.
Eastern Michigan comes in having won only once in seven opportunities this season, but the team has been thrown into further turmoil following the tragic death of wide receiver Demarius Reed. The junior was the apparent victim of a violent robbery, and his senseless slaying has given the Eagles a renewed sense of purpose as they stare down the final five games of the season, three of which they'll play on the road. In the first outing after the incident involving Reed, EMU suffered a 56-28 home loss to Ohio University last Saturday.
Northern Illinois is 7-0 and has won 20 consecutive games against MAC rivals, dating back to Oct. 1, 2011 when it lost at Central Michigan. The Huskies won their 13th straight road game by claiming a 38-17 triumph at CMU last weekend, and they still have two more away from home before what they hope is a trip to MAC Championship Game in Detroit on Dec. 6.
Northern Illinois owns a 27-14-2 advantage in the all-time series with Eastern Michigan, and the Huskies prevailed in last year's meeting, 49-7. The Eagles' last win was a 21-19 decision in DeKalb on Sept. 15, 2007.
Eastern Michigan doesn't have the most potent offense around, the team averaging just 19.7 points and 367.9 yards per contest -- both figures ranking the Eagles in the middle of the Mid-American Conference pack. Quarterback Tyler Benz has completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 1,403 yards, nine TDs and eight interceptions, with guys like Tyreese Russell, Dustin Creel and Jay Jones all logging at least 22 receptions for a combined 919 yards and six scores. As for the EMU rushing attack, Bronson Hill has been highly productive in amassing 752 yards while finding the end zone four times. His 107.4 ypg ranks as the fifth-best average in the league.
The Eagles defense has been battered and bruised all season long, the unit giving up a MAC-worst 42.3 ppg. That number actually ranks the team 120th of the 123 teams currently charted at the Football Bowl Subdivision, and the one area in which it really struggles is against the run (246.3 ypg, 30 TDs allowed). Despite the unit's obvious difficulties, there are some guys who have produced for coach Ron English's club, notably Mycal Swaim (49 tackles, one INT), Ike Spearman (45 tackles, one INT) and Sean Kurtz (40 tackles, one INT). Pat O'Connor has three of the team's 13 sacks, but with only six total takeaways a glaring lack of big plays has hurt the Eagles' chances of being more competitive.
What was once a tight 21-21 game midway through the third quarter turned into a lopsided final as EMU suffered a 28-point loss to the Ohio Bobcats last weekend. The Eagles used a punishing rushing attack to stay relevant, churning out 315 yards in averaging 8.1 ypc. Unfortunately, they only scored once on the ground despite a season-high 257-yard effort by Hill. Benz threw for 151 yards with a pair of TDs and two interceptions, with both Creel and Russell pulling down scoring strikes.
Ohio generated 547 total yards last week, the bulk of which came through the air (399), and they scored four times via the pass. The Bobcats were highly efficient in converting 7-of-12 third-down chances, and they scored TDs on six of their seven trips to the red zone. Spearman paced the EMU defense with 10 tackles, but only one was unassisted, while Swaim finished with nine stops and Kurtz had eight.
Northern Illinois ranks first in the MAC in scoring offense (39.4 ppg), rushing offense (304.7 ypg) and total offense (519.9 ypg), none of which is surprising when you consider the outstanding season turned in by quarterback Jordan Lynch. A 61.3 percent passer who has thrown for 1,488 yards (212.6 ypg) with 14 TDs and only five interceptions, Lynch is the ultimate dual-threat option as he is actually more dangerous when he tucks the ball away and decides to take off, having run for 932 yards (second-most in the MAC) and seven TDs. Also serving notice in the NIU run game is Cameron Stingily, as he has carried the ball 133 times for 726 yards and seven scores himself. Tommylee Lewis (50 rec., 400 yards, three TDs) and Da'Ron Brown (30 rec., 442 yards, five TDs) are the team's top receivers.
The Huskies are a solid defensive team, permitting an average of 26.6 ppg, while clamping down on the run to the tune of a league-best 143.6 ypg allowed. They are one of only two teams in the MAC to hold the opposition to single- digit rushing TDs (six). That said, NIU has proven vulnerable against the pass, yielding a conference-worst 300.3 ypg, and the 17 passing TDs it has allowed is second-most. The Huskies have two guys who are at 50 tackles or greater this season, as Jimmie Ward (55) and Jamaal Bass (50) have certainly been busy, particularly Ward who is tied for the national lead with five interceptions.
In last week's win at Central Michigan, Lynch established a new FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback, as he ran for 316 yards and three TDs on 32 carries. he added 151 yards in the passing game, hitting Lewis 10 times for 54 yards and a score. Stingily also proved effective on the ground, tallying 70 yards and a TD on 14 totes. In all, the Huskies generated 592 yards of total offense, picked up 28 first downs, and scored on 6-of-8 trips to the red zone (five TDs).
NIU head coach Rod Carey praised his team after the CMU game, and spoke about the multitude of options he has at his disposal on offense.
"With all the weapons we have - Jordan, Cameron Stingily, Da'Ron Brown and Tommylee and our tight ends, each defense plays us a little differently," Carey said. "Defenses have to make a choice and then we take what they are giving you."
The Chippewas were held to 75 net rushing yards last week, averaging a mere 2.5 ypc and they did not score a TD on the ground. They did however, amass 271 yards and a pair of TDs via the pass. The Huskies managed to tighten the purse strings on third down (3-of-11), while coming up with two turnovers and a pair of sacks. Boomer Mays and Bass led the way with seven tackles apiece.