No. 23 NIU hopes explosive offense returns Saturday
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NIU's Cameron Stingily runs against Akron during the first half of last week's game in DeKalb. The Huskies' backfield ranks ninth in the FBS with an average of 282.7 yards per game.
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. — Northern Illinois got national attention with its offense, then topped Akron last weekend with a lot of help from its defense. The 23rd-ranked Huskies (6-0, 2-0 Mid-American) hope to tip the balance back where it started when they travel to Central Michigan on Saturday.
Northern Illinois converted just one of its 15 third-down attempts but got a blocked extra-point and interception, as well as a late fourth-down stand to keep itself perfect.
"We certainly didn't play our best, but that had more to do with how Akron played," coach Rod Carey said. "They did a good job on all the little things and we didn't.
"We didn't counter that with our own fundamentals."
The Huskies are the MAC's most explosive offensive team. Jordan Lynch, who last season became the first quarterback in FBS history with more than 1,500 yards rushing and 3,000 yards passing, has 616 and 1,333 and 17 touchdowns at the halfway point.
Last week's performance made him the 10th quarterback in FBS history to amass at least 3,000 yards rushing and 4,000 passing in a career.
Add a backfield that has gotten 100-yard games from three different players and ranks ninth in the FBS with 282.7 yards per game, and Central Michigan coach Dan Enos knows his team will have its hands full.
"It's unbelievable how talented they are," he said. "How well they execute and turnovers will be a huge factor."
Northern Illinois' offense was far from awful against Akron — it still rolled up 399 yards and three touchdowns while playing turnover-free football — but Carey said he hopes the basics are better this weekend against a defense that allows 32.7 points per game.
"It was poor execution and some poor play calling," he said. "We have to keep pushing because we're not a finished product."
Here are five things to watch:
INTERCEPTION STREAK: Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward shares the FBS lead with five interceptions this season, including one in each of the last six games. "He's good because we can move him around," Carey said of the senior. "It's tough to account for in an offense." Enos agreed the Chippewas will be watching for him every snap. "He's an outstanding player," he said. "He's very physical and athletic."
ANOTHER STREAK: The Huskies have won an FBS-best 12 straight road games, but return to the scene of their last setback. Central Michigan topped Northern Illinois 48-41 on Oct. 1, 2011, and the Huskies have since won 19 straight conference games, the longest such streak among FBS teams. Only No. 2 Oregon (18) can boast more consecutive road victories.
ROAD WEARY: The Chippewas (3-4, 2-1) are back at Kelly/Shorts Stadium after playing three straight road games, but only get to enjoy the comforts of home once until Nov. 23. Central Michigan has two bye weekends after Saturday's game, then has two consecutive road games. "We can't control our schedule," Enos said. "It's been rough." Two straight MAC wins, including last weekend's 26-23 victory at Ohio, helped take some of the sting out of the road trips.
GIVE & TAKE: Northern Illinois has forced at least one turnover in every game this season, including Ward's interception last weekend against Akron. That game also was the first this season the Huskies did not give the ball away.
GETTING BETTER: Central Michigan redshirt freshman quarterback Cooper Rush matched his career high with three touchdown passes and no interceptions in last weekend's win at Ohio. "I thought he handled their pressure well," said Enos, a former college quarterback at Michigan State. "He took some big steps."
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