Central Michigan (3-3) at Northern Illinois (4-1) (ET)

FACTS & STATS: Site: Huskie Stadium (23,595) — DeKalb, Illinois. Television:
ESPN3.com. Home Record: Central Michigan 2-1, Northern Illinois 2-0. Away
Record: Central Michigan 1-2, Northern Illinois 2-1. Neutral Record: Central
Michigan 0-0, Northern Illinois 0-0. Conference Record: Central Michigan 1-1,
Northern Illinois 1-0. Series Record: Central Michigan leads, 25-23-1.

GAME NOTES: The Central Michigan Chippewas finally ended a three-game losing
skid with a resounding win over conference foe Ohio, and now they’ll try to
create a winning streak as they get set to take on the Northern Illinois
Huskies in a Mid-American Conference battle at Huskie Stadium on Saturday.

Central Michigan, when healthy, has one of the better offensive units in the
MAC. It certainly seemed that way last Saturday when the team took apart
Ohio’s defense in a 28-10 victory at home. The Chippewas will try to win back-
to-back games for the second time this season.

Northern Illinois came back from a bye week with a narrow 17-14 edging of
winless Kent State last weekend. The team dropped a very one-sided contest to
SEC opponent Arkansas on Sept. 20, and then took an open week before starting
up conference play with the defeat of the Golden Flashes.

Central Michigan and Northern Illinois have gone back and forth plenty of
times in their long-running series history. The Chippewas hold a very narrow
25-23-1 all-time series lead over the Huskies in a series that dates back to
1939.

The Central Michigan offense was clicking almost immediately against Ohio last
weekend in Mount Pleasant, and it was clear that quarterback Cooper Rush was
happy to have his top wideout fully healthy. Rush connected on 17 passes in
the game for 233 yards and a pair of touchdowns – both of which went to Titus
Davis in the first quarter to get the offensive ball rolling for CMU. The
Chippewas are averaging 205 passing ypg, but with Davis healthy, Rush should
see a boost in his passing numbers going forward.

Although Davis is the primary target (he’s played in three of the team’s six
games this season), Jesse Kroll leads the team in receiving this season with
19 receptions for 289 yards (second to Davis’ 320) and three touchdowns. Kroll
has suffered two season-ending injuries in his career, but when he and Davis
are healthy together, they could form the top pass-catching duo in the
conference.

Davis wasn’t the only welcome injury returnee for the Chippewas, however. The
emergence of Thomas Rawls this season out of the backfield has been a
revelation for coach Dan Enos. Rawls scampered for 229 yards and two scores on
40 carries last weekend in the win, which brings his four-game totals to 113
carries, 570 yards and seven touchdowns. CMU as a unit is averaging 128.8
rushing ypg.

While it was nice for Central Michigan to see two of its top offensive
performers back, the Chippewas still had a job to do defensively. CMU allowed
just eight first downs in the game to Ohio and 187 total offensive yards (89
rushing, 98 passing). This season, Central Michigan is surrendering 24.8 ppg
and 357.5 ppg. Both totals against Ohio were well below the team’s season
averages.

In six games played, CMU has forced 10 turnovers (eight interceptions, two
fumbles) thanks in large part to defensive backs Tony Annese and Brandon
Greer, who has notched a pair of interceptions each in six games. Defensive
end Joe Ostman has a team-high six tackles for loss, and linebacker Justin
Cherocci tops the squad with 61 total tackles. They’ll all need to be alert
against a Northern Illinois offense set on running the football.

Northern Illinois held a 17-3 lead midway through the fourth quarter last
weekend against Kent State, but the Golden Flashes made a run late in the game
to try and tie the score. It was a bit of a messy game for the Huskies
offensively, who barely outgained one of the worst offensive teams in the
country (379 total offensive yards to 327 for Kent State). Quarterbacks Drew
Hare and Anthony Maddie saw about equal time, while Maddie led the team with
105 passing yards, adding in an interception. Hare, who leads the team with
eight touchdown passes, registered a cold 93 yards passing.

The biggest issue for NIU offensively last weekend was the run game, on which
the Huskies typically pride themselves. The team have rumbled for an average
of 256 rushing ypg this season, but could only manage 181 yards on the ground
against Kent State. Joel Bouagnon (four touchdowns) and Cameron Stingily (234
rushing yards) should have bounce-back games after combining for 85 yards on
the ground last Saturday.

Juwan Brescacin caught three passes for a team-best 116 yards in the win over
Kent State as part of a receiving crew that hauled in just 198 combined yards
from two different passers. The NIU offense, which averages 210.8 passing ypg,
466.8 total ypg and 31.4 ppg, will need to get a better showing from top
receiver Da’Ron Brown.

Defensively, the Huskies have been steady in the 2014 campaign. The group
allows 23.6 ppg and 354.8 total ypg to opponents, and in three of the team’s
five games this year has held opponents to fewer than 20 points. Central
Michigan, which is built on an offensive mix of pass and run, may struggle on
the road against an NIU team surrendering just 107.6 rushing ypg and 247.2
passing ypg.

Marlon Moore and Rasheen Lemon have each forced two fumbles for the Huskies,
but the team in general hasn’t created very many turnovers. The unit has only
registered three interceptions and two fumble recoveries, but will have to
force Rush into making mistakes, which he has been prone to do. Defensive
lineman Jason Meehan has a team-high four sacks, while Moore leads the team in
tackles with 39.

The Chippewas, when clicking offensively, will be hard to stop in MAC play.
Northern Illinois’ slim three-point win over Kent State may have just been a
down game for the Huskies because Northern Illinois has shown it can be
competitive with some bigger-name opponents. The home advantage will help NIU
greatly in this potential offensive showdown.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Northern Illinois 34, Central Michigan 27