Northern Illinois (5-2) at Eastern Michigan (2-5) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Rynearson Stadium (30,200) -- Ypsilanti, Michigan. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Northern Illinois 2-1, Eastern Michigan 2-0. Away Record: Northern Illinois 2-1, Eastern Michigan 0-5. Neutral Record: Northern Illinois 0-0, Eastern Michigan 0-0. Conference Record: Northern Illinois 2-1, Eastern Michigan 1-2. Series Record: Northern Illinois leads, 28-14-2.
GAME NOTES: The Northern Illinois Huskies, coming off a title season in the Mid-American Conference one year ago, will further try to prove they belong in title discussions again as they travel to face the Eastern Michigan Eagles in a conference bout at Rynearson Stadium.
One week after Northern Illinois was upset by Central Michigan at home, the Huskies made sure to outlast one-win Miami-Ohio over the weekend, 51-41, for the team's second win in its last three games. With five games remaining on the regular season schedule, every game for the Huskies counts as they shoot for the MAC championship yet again.
Eastern Michigan sought a second straight win last weekend when the team traveled to Foxboro, Massachusetts, for a matchup with the UMass Minutemen at Gillette Stadium - home of the New England Patriots. The Eagles proved to be no match, however, and bowed out to Massachusetts, 36-14.
NIU and EMU have a long-standing history as conference rivals, and will continue that tradition this weekend. Northern Illinois holds the all-time series record against Eastern Michigan, 28-14-2. It doesn't help the Eagles' cause that the Huskies have won six consecutive games in the matchup.
In a game that saw an uncharacteristically low amount of offense two weeks ago, the Huskies were downed by Central Michigan. But against Miami-Ohio last weekend, the team exploded for 658 total yards of offense, including 433 yards on the ground, which is the signature of Northern Illinois. Quarterback Drew Hare and running back Cameron Stingily each dashed for over 130 yards, while Hare had two scores and Stingily added another. NIU and Miami combined for 1,172 yards of offense and 56 first downs in the contest.
Hare led the team in passing with 185 yards and a touchdown after completing 12-of-16 attempts. This season, he has passed for 1,182 yards and 11 touchdowns against just one interception in seven games played. Thanks to his 190-yard rushing effort against Miami, he now leads the team on the ground by just two yards over Stingily (415 rushing yards for Hare, 413 for Stingily), and has scored four touchdowns with his legs. Stingily and Joel Bouagnon have combined for seven rushing scores, but Stingily missed a game earlier in the year.
The NIU offense has had a few hiccups, with the loss to Central Michigan and a slim three-point, 17-13 win over Kent State the most prominent head- scratchers. Even with those contests taken into account, the Huskies still average 32.1 ppg and 476.1 offensive ypg. The mark of NIU has been its ground attack over the past few seasons, and is no different this year with 260.4 ypg coming via the run game.
Concerns surrounding the Huskies defense may be valid after the team spotted at least 34 points to opponents in the past two weeks. Northern Illinois is allowing opponents to net 27.6 ppg and rack up 405.7 total ypg through the team's seven contests, but only one team remaining on the schedule (Toledo) has an offense that should particularly scare the Huskies.
Northern Illinois will pull it together on the defensive end, which is led by safety Marlon Moore and his team-best 51 tackles, and lineman Jason Meehan, who has registered seven tackles for loss and five sacks this season. One thing the Huskies could work on is creating more turnovers. In seven games, NIU has forced just four interceptions and recovered two fumbles for six takeaways - tied for 114th in the entire FBS. Defensive back Logan Paris has two of those six takeaways (one interception, one fumble recovery), and has a team-best seven pass breakups.
One week after an especially strong performance by quarterback Reginald Bell, Eastern Michigan was shut down offensively by Massachusetts and its suddenly powerful offensive attack. Bell passed for 147 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the loss, and added a team-best 40 rushing yards on 21 carries - the only EMU player to register double-digit totes in the ballgame. The Minutemen were overpowering in the win over the Eagles, and it wasn't quarterback Blake Frohnapfel that was the focal point. Running back Shadrach Abrokwah scored four times on the ground against the Eagles, who have only put up more than 14 points twice this season.
Bell will be looking to bounce back after last weekend's down performance. His 362 passing yards after just two starts and in five games played is already the best on the team, while his 290 rushing yards and three touchdowns are also team bests (Ryan Brumfield is tied with three rushing scores).The Eagles will need to well outdo their 15 ppg average if they want to take down Northern Illinois.
The running game has been the most effective this season for the EMU, which averages 157 ypg on the ground. Bell, Bronson Hill and Brumfield are the three top ball carriers, and when on point can be three very deadly players. In the passing game, Northern Illinois may want to stick Logan on Tyreese Russell, who has 18 catches for 191 yards and a pair of scores.
Defense has been the Eagles' kryptonite this season. The team is allowing opponents to score a disastrous 39.6 ppg and gain 521.1 ypg through the team's seven contests. Granted Eastern Michigan played some hefty competition against the SEC's Florida and Big Ten's Michigan State, but in three conference games, the lowest opponent scoring total is 27 points for the Buffalo Bulls.
Linebacker Great Ibe, who has 84 tackles on the season, is tied for sixth in the FBS with an 12.0 tackles per game average. That's about as bright as the bright spots get for the Eagles on the defensive side of the ball, although lineman Pat O'Connor has registered 6.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss in seven effective games. He and Ibe, along with Anthony Zappone (six tackles for loss) will have to be the leaders against the powerful NIU rushing attack.
Eastern Michigan has shown some promise at times this season, but ultimately the Eagles revert right back to the punching bag they've largely become. But when Bell is on his game, there's no team that can stop him. Northern Illinois will use its run game effectively against an Eagles squad allowing 220.7 rushing ypg to opponents this season, and will pick up this crucial road win before a Nov. 5 bout at Ball State.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Northern Illinois 32, Eastern Michigan 20Game Date and Time
Saturday, October 25, 1 p.m. (ET)