Eastern Michigan (0-8, 0-4 Mid-American Conference) plays Northern Illinois (5-3, 3-1) at 6:30 CDT Thursday night in DeKalb, Ill.

NIU won 37-0 the last time the teams met on Sept. 27, 2008 and has won seven of the past eight in the series.

The Eastern Echo sports staff will not be making the trip, but, like last week, we’ll do our best to keep you informed. The game is to be broadcast on ESPNU and WEMU 89.1 FM.

Please welcome John Sahly, sports writer for the Daily Chronicle and blogger for the Huskie Wire, for some insight on Northern Illinois.

We did a short e-mail exchange, and here are the results:

Souva (Questions by Sahly):

1. What are some of the biggest differences with Ron English in charge? Can he succeed where others have failed?

Ron English has brought a different attitude – in a good way
– to Eastern Michigan, but it certainly hasn’t shown on the field.
Despite being winless, the team doesn’t seem to be getting down on
itself from what I’ve seen in lively practices. I can’t say if English
will succeed with this historically losing program, it’s still too
early in his tenure.

2. How has the offense held up with the loss of Andy Schmitt?

The injury bug has hit this team hard, although English has never used
that as an excuse. Quarterback Andy Schmitt was the most notable
player to go down, but it’s also been without starting safety Ryan
Downard since the third game. Backup quarterbacks Kyle McMahon and
Alex Gillett have been relatively ineffective. McMahon did play good
in the second half against Arkansas last week, though.

English and his staff switched from last season’s spread to a
pro-style offense. The switch hasn’t gone smoothly. I don’t think
Schmitt would’ve made that much of a difference in this offense
because most of the work load falls on the tailbacks. His injury put
an end to the possibility of redshirting McMahon this season, as he
had to step in, so it definitely had a long-term effect.

3. NIU’s rush offense is stastiscally the best in the MAC while EMU’s rush defense is one of the worst in the country. How big a mismatch is this from the EMU side?

There’s no doubt, EMU will have trouble stopping Northern Illinois’
rush game. It’s a tremendous mismatch.

“I like their backs,” English said at his weekly teleconference. “They
can run the ball. It’s going to be a lot of fun to play those guys
because they play power football.”

I don’t think it’ll be fun. EMU’s rush defense is no laughing matter,
it’s simply been awful. It’s been a sore subject all season. Most
teams, especially Army and Ball State, have had field days on the
ground – they both defeated EMU with a combined 9-yards passing.

4. Who are some of the playmakers fans should look out for on Thursday?

Honestly, EMU doesn’t have many playmakers. A few on the defense to
look out for are lineman Brandon Downs and safety Chris May,
who’s done a nice job replacing Downard. On the offense, keep an eye
on receiver DeAnthony White. He’s been exciting to watch when gets
carries on sweeps.

5. Last thing, what is your prediction for the game?

English said the short week could benefit his team, as it will
practice with pads once this week (on Monday), which will allow his
players to heal up a bit.

“What we do is really get after it everyday,” he said. “It’s been a
long season for these kids. They’re not used to the contact (they’ve
had in practice).”

That being said, I don’t think EMU wins this game. It’ll be another
long day for the defense, and I don’t think this team will get its
first win – especially on the road. NIU wins, 31-17.

Sahly (Questions by Souva):

1. Can you elaborate on why tailbacks Me’co Brown and Chad Spann have been so
effective? I see Brown didn’t play spectacular last week, why’s that?

Brown and Spann will be the first ones to tell you they’re getting great blocking from their offensive line and wide receivers. There is a lot of truth to that, especially with NIU’s wide receivers. They block better than any group of wideouts I’ve seen in the MAC this season. Spann has really started to hit a groove lately. He’s seeing holes better than he ever has and he’s getting yards after contact. Brown has the ability to hit home runs with long rushing plays but has been dancing near the hole lately and his pass blocking, after taking two giant steps forward in the past year has slipped a little in the past two weeks. With Spann doing so well, he naturally has gotten more of the carries.

2. Is NIU an even better team than 5-3 its record suggests? Idaho had to be a let-down game after beating Purdue, it hung with Wisconsin and barely lost to Toledo.

I think after watching what Idaho has done this season, the sting of that loss has really gone away. The Vandals are a legit team and should be bowling for the first time in a long time this season. But yeah it was a letdown for NIU, especially after the Purdue win. The loss that has stung the most for NIU fans at least was losing at Toledo. The Glass Bowl has flat-out haunted NIU over the years and to lose on a blocked field goal, and then a few days later lose starting quarterback Chandler Harnish for an estimated 2-3 weeks has especially hurt the Huskies. Are they better than 5-3 though? I don’t think so. But I don’t think they’re worse than that. I said before the season that the ceiling was 8 wins and the floor was 5.

3. How has NIU coach Jerry Kill be so good in his two seasons?

He’s done well in two seasons at NIU. Getting the Huskies back to a bowl game after a 2-10 season under Joe Novak was impressive and NIU looks like the team to beat the in the West starting in 2010. I don’t really think you can ask for much more in terms of building a program.

4. Your prediction?

I think the short turnaround coupled with back-to-back road trips will be too much for the Eagles to handle and NIU wins, 34-14.