A third-quarter interception in the red zone was the beginning of the end of Eastern Michigan University’s run to upset Ohio University last week.
With another chance at an upset this week, the Eagles will be back in the position they were in last season to play spoiler on Mid-American Conference powerhouse Northern Illinois University’s quest for another Bowl Championship Series at-large bid.
“It’s just another week for us to be challenged as professionals and to do the right things,” EMU coach Ron English said in Monday’s MAC Teleconference.
The Eagles (1-6, 0-3 MAC) let a close one slip away last week after being tied at 21 and being four yards away from leading the game inside six minutes left in the third quarter. The 56-28 loss extended the losing streak to six games as EMU will try to snap it at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, Ill.
“You’re looking at a team that is way better than their record,” said NIU coach Rod Carey in the MAC Teleconference.
The No. 18 ranked Huskies (7-0, 3-0 MAC) in the BCS standings are coming off of a 38-17 win at Central Michigan University last week in a game that showcased their versatile senior quarterback Jordan Lynch.
Lynch broke a Football Bowl Subdivision quarterback record with 316 rushing yards on 32 carries. He also ran in three touchdowns and threw for 155 yards and another touchdown.
He’s fourth in the FBS with 932 rushing yards and ranks first among quarterbacks.
The Huskies will also have junior running back Cameron Stingily to help out in the backfield. He has rushed for 726 yards, seven TD’s on the ground and 103.7 yards per game average that ranks him sixth in the conference.
“Northern Illinois is a fabulous football team,” English said. “They really do a nice job of taking advantage of their weapons.”
EMU junior running back Bronson Hill will lead the Eagles offense with his run game. He ranks fifth in the conference with 752 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Hill is coming off his best two games of the season when he ran for 257 on 23 carries last week and 143 on 20 the week before at Army.
In the air, the Eagles will be leaning on the arm of redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Benz, who has 1403 passing yards, 9 TD’s and 8 interceptions on the season. He has a completion percentage of .643.
“Offensively, they’re committed to the run and very capable of the pass,” Carey said.
His top receiver thus far has been junior tight end Tyreese Russell, who had a 62-yard TD reception last week, his first since week one. He has 31 receptions for 366 yards. Sophomore wide receiver Dustin Creel has seen a handful of targets as well, with 25 catches for 324 yards and 3 TD’s.
The Huskies lead the all-time series against the Eagles, 19-5-2, dating back to 1977.
NIU has won the last five meetings, with the Eagles’ last win being in 2007, a 21-19 victory.
NIU has won 11 of the teams’ last 12 games, with its longest winning streak being a six-game stretch from 2001-2006.
The largest win-margin for either team was a 71-3 Huskies victory on Nov. 26, 2010 at Rynearson Stadium.
The last three games between these teams have been regular season finales on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Keys to the Game:
EMU defense vs. Lynch and the run:
The Eagles are ranked 12th in the MAC with its rushing defense allowing 246.3 yards per game and have allowed a conference-worst 30 TD’s on the ground. (Central Michigan University is the closest to that number with 20.) Lynch is averaging 133.1 yards per game and has 7 TD’s rushing this season.
If he gets hot on his feet early in this game, he could have another field day like last week. EMU’s main focus will be stopping him, but if that falls through, watch out.
Red zone efficiency:
NIU is successful 87.5 percent of the time inside the opponent’s 20-yard line (21-for-24), which is second-best in the MAC with that percentage, they have 14 TD’s and two turnovers in the red zone.
The Eagles’ 63.2 percent success in the red zone is 11th in the conference with four turnovers (three interceptions) affecting that percentage. If EMU will get it done in the red zone, it will most likely be on the ground, using Hill or other backs Ryan Brumfield or Darius Jackson.
NIU and EMU have the worst and second-worst red zone defenses in the MAC, respectively.
The Eagles turned the ball over three times last week, with a fumble and two interceptions. That bumped the team’s turnover total to 14, giving it a -8 margin. Nine of the turnovers lost have been interceptions.
NIU is on the opposite side of the spectrum with a turnover margin of 8. The Huskies have lost 10 turnovers this season, five of them interceptions. If the offense is using Lynch’s arm a little more than usual, EMU may try to take advantage of that by wearing him down. But don’t bet on it.
Players to Watch:
NIU Sr. QB Jordan Lynch: Although he’s coming off his second-worst passing performance of the season last week, all eyes will be on him for his record-breaking performance he put on against CMU running the ball.
He’ll be up against the FBS’s eighth-worst rushing defense in EMU, a team that has let up 1724 rushing yards to opponents. His arm has been effective, too, with 14 TD’s in the air and five interceptions.
EMU Jr. RB Bronson Hill: With the way Hill has led the Eagles’ offense in its last two games, one can only imagine it will be the foundation of it this week at NIU.
Hill put on his best rushing performance of 2013 with 257 yards and a touchdown last week. He also broke loose for a 70-yard run and 64-yard run, both in the third quarter. His ability to slip away from tackles has improved, so look for that against a good Huskies run defense.
Follow Derrick Vergolini on Twitter @derrickvergo.