On the road again: Football Mt. Pleasant-bound

Jason Meehan
Jason Meehan

Considering the tremendous number of yards amassed the last few years by the NIU Huskie football team, fans probably weren’t prepared what happened at Homecoming.

With the cardinal-and-black offense oddly out of sync, it was the Huskie defense that carried the day versus Akron, holding the Zips to just six points over the final three quarters with the lowest total yards and rushing yards by an opponent this season.

Meanwhile, the Huskies produced a season-low 399 yards of offense – 220 of those on passing plays – and successfully converted only once on third down.

Compare that to the week before (698 yards over Kent State) or the first home game, when Jordan Lynch and Co. put up 577 yards over Eastern Illinois.

Nonetheless, Coach Rod Carey says, a win is still a win.

And his squad, on the road again this weekend to play Mid-American Conference West opponent Central Michigan, remains undefeated at 6-0 and still nationally ranked at No. 23 in the AP and USA Today polls.

“Obviously, there are a lot of things coming out of it to address from the offensive side of the ball. Leading the way is third-down and our lack of productivity on that,” Carey says. “When you go 1-of-15 on third-down, it’s not just one thing; it’s a bunch of things. The biggest thing … is that you give Akron credit. They are a good football team.”

Jordan Lynch
Jordan Lynch

Lynch holds himself responsible.

“The blame there will go on me. I missed a few easy throws there, and that’s why we got off rhythm. They were throws I usually make, and I was off rhythm and didn’t really give my receivers a chance to catch them, and when I did, it was too late in the game to convert those third downs, so I will take the blame on that,” the quarterback says.

“We’ll probably do some extra stuff (in practice) this week, but we’re not going to do anything out of the ordinary,” he adds. “We’re going to keep doing what we do and I’ll make those throws. I usually make those throws, and I just missed them.”

Fortunately, Carey adds, the players are not pointing any fingers at each other.

“No, our guys stick together,” he says. “That’s the sign of leadership on your football team. There can’t be any cracks in the dam. You have to be one solid group and they were, albeit frustrated and even more frustrated when we all watched the film.”

NIU and Central Michigan (3-4, 2-1 MAC) kick off at 2 p.m. CT at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mt. Pleasant. Fans can watch the game on ESPN3 or listen to the broadcast on WSCR 670 AM, WLBK 1360 AM and 98.9 FM (DeKalb) and WTJK 1380 AM (Janesville, Wis.).

Jamaal Payton
Jamaal Payton

The Huskies have won 19 consecutive games versus MAC opponents, the longest conference winning streak in the country. NIU’s 12 straight wins in road games rank second in the FBS.

Two years ago, however, the Chippewas defended their home turf with a 48-41 victory over NIU. Central Michigan posts a 16-8 record at home versus the Huskies, who haven’t won there since 2005.

Saturday is “going to be a physical game,” Carey says.

“Coach (Dan Enos) has them molded and put in the way he wants them now, which is physical on both sides of the ball and real sound in the kicking game. They’re going to challenge you, maybe not so much from no huddle or things of that nature, but they’re going to challenge you from a technical standpoint and a fundamental standpoint play after play after play,” he adds.

“If you’re not fundamentally sound on both sides of the ball, you’re going to go ahead and be in a real tussle with a real good football team. That’s going to be the challenge for us this week: to really get ourselves technically and fundamentally sound and execute in those situations.”

The defensive heroes of last week – Huskie safety Jimmie Ward leads the country in interceptions with five, including one in each of NIU’s last four games – are “progressing nicely.”

But “it’s not done. They’ve got work to do. They’ll be the first ones to tell you, too, and Coach Diersen will echo that sentiment,” Carey says.

“Have they made some plays? Have they been disruptive at times? Absolutely. Do we need more of it? You bet. We have high, high expectations for that group, and they’re striving to meet them all.”

The Chippewas are “one of the bigger MAC teams that we usually play,” adds safety Dominique Ware. “Their offensive line is usually big, and they usually run the ball downhill, so we’ve got to practice this week by doing our tackling drills and making sure our scheme is sound up front.”

For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.

NIU Huskie defense

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