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NIU vs. Central Michigan: What to Watch For

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Unfinished Business

The last three years we have lost to the CMU Chippewas. The last three years have been an anomaly headed by the now-Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones and now-Cincinnati Bengal Dan LeFevour. This team has a new coach (Dan Enos) with a new system (Pro-Style) and a new quarterback (Ryan Radcliff).

CMU is a team that we're supposed to own. Just look at the streak of nine straight win by the Huskies from 1998-2006. In 2007 we were just terrible. 2008 was when the Huskies came back from a 24-point deficit to force overtime in which Harnish threw an interception to end the game. Last year was just a beatdown by a ridiculously good offensive team on the road who would go undefeated in conference.

Times have changed and now it's time for the seniors to get this series back on track.

Passing to set up the Run

CMU's defense is led by two of the biggest badasses in the league, Linebackers Nick Bellore (6'1" 241) and Matt Berning (6'0" 232). Bellore has been the star of this defense in the past, but now Berning is leading the team in tackles with 63 (9 pg) and 13 TFL. They are on Phil Steele's 1st and 2nd teams respectively along with Sean Murnane (6'1" 266) leading the defensive line.

The beginning of this game might be close to the Akron game. CMU will stick eight guys in the box to stop Chad Spann and the Huskies will have to attack through the air. Once Cox and co. start breaking big plays then Spann will have some holes to run through, but early on it will be a tough go.

Pressure and Turnovers

The Chippewas have a patchwork offensive line at this point in the season. A line that allowed Ball State's Robert Eddins to get 4.5 sacks against them and won 31-17 after Radcliff threw three interceptions.

That's going to be the key against CMU in this one. Ryan Radcliff is going to throw the ball around. For the season, he leads the MAC in passing with 2,032 yds already. For comparison, Harnish only has 1,087. He's thrown 11 interceptions just like Buffalo's Jerry Davis did, but the difference is that he completes 57.95% of his passes, which puts him as the #5 most efficient QB in the league.

Radcliff has been sacked almost 3 times per game which puts them at 103rd in the nation in that category. The Huskies have been amazing in the 2nd half of games, but I'd like to see them get after the QB from the get-go. NIU's pass efficiency D now ranks #1 in the conference after Buffalo's debacle. CMU's redzone efficiency also ranks 106th in the the nation, which means a lot of turnovers when the Chips are looking to score.

Playing a complete game (Special Teams)

Every week, the Huskies have been getting better but they haven't been able to put together that complete game. It's always something. One week it's a crucial turnover, a penalty, bad special teams coverage, field goal kicking... Oh, and will Jimmie Ward block another punt?

The Huskies have yet to put together a signature game that we can finally say that they look like a team that can win a championship. Saturday is that day to make a statement against a team that is done dominating this conference.