Scouting the Huskies
After a season of near victories last year, Northern Illinois has established themselves as one of the best teams in the Mid-American Conference this season.
Despite winning just two games in 2007, the Huskies posted a 6-7 record last year. NIU, however, failed to close out big games, losing by four points at Minnesota and Tennessee, falling by three at Western Michigan and coming up a field goal short of defeating Central Michigan in overtime.
This year, the Huskies (3-2, 1-0 MAC) look like they have taken the next step as a frontrunner for the MAC Championship. NIU gave Wisconsin all they could handle at home in a 28-20 loss to open the season, and followed that game with a 34-point win against Western Illinois and a 28-21 victory at Purdue. Sandwiched between the Boilermakers’ win and the MAC opening game, Northern Illinois lost by a field goal in a trap game to an underrated 5-1 Idaho squad. The Huskies would suffer no ill-effects from the setback, holding Western Michigan to just a field goal one week later in a 38-3 rout. That’s the same Broncos team that put up 58 points in the Glass Bowl one week ago.
Northern Illinois thrives with their rushing attack, which is led by sophomore Meco Brown and junior Chad Spann. The Huskies rank 21st in the nation at over 200 yards per game on the ground, the best total in the MAC. Contributing to that success is sophomore quarterback Chandler Harnish, who led NIU in rushing last year. While Harnish isn’t going to throw for 400 yards any time soon, he has been extremely proficient at running the offense for his age, holding the second-highest passer rating in the conference behind only CMU’s two-time All-MAC quarterback Dan LeFevour.
The Huskies defense has been stout early on, giving up 18.6 points per game. The biggest factor has been NIU’s run defense, which ranks second in the conference (133.2 ypg) thanks to strong play from the linebackers. Senior Cory Hanson missed most of last season with a knee injury, but has already recorded 31 tackles in NIU’s five games. Sophomore Pat Schiller is the youngest on the unit, but looks like he will be a mainstay on the Northern Illinois defense for years to come.
The Huskies’ secondary is still a work in progress, giving up over 211 yards per game. Sophomore safety Tracy Wilson has a lot of talent and has shown tremendous ability to get to the ball carrier, recording nearly nine tackles per contest.
Following a 58-26 drumming at the hands of Western Michigan, Toledo looks as focused as I have seen them all season. The players know they need to bring it this week and should come out looking to prove they can play with the best in the MAC. Unfortunately for UT, I’m not sure that they can. The Rockets’ offense is a tremendous concern with quarterback Aaron Opelt’s status as questionable, and the defense has been one of the worst units in the nation through the first six games, giving up 454 yards per game while allowing the second-most points per game of any team in the country (41.17 ppg). Toledo hasn’t faced a rushing attack as effective as the Huskies and should struggle to keep NIU’s stable of backs in check, especially after a bye week.
If Opelt is healthy and the Rockets can score at will, they have a shot of handing the Huskies their first conference loss. If they can’t, UT may be out of the MAC race after just three league games.
— Zach Davis is the Sports Editor and a senior majoring in communication. He contributes to Scout.com and provides a weekly NCAA football Top-10 poll for UWire.com.
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