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October 18, 2013

NIU prep: CMU offense vs. NIU defense

The Chippewas are coming off one of the biggest wins in the Dan Enos era: a 26-23 road win at Ohio, a game in which CMU was an 18.5-point underdog. Sophomore running back Saylor Lavallii ran all over the Bobcats defense, to the tune of 184 yards on 26 carries, and redshirt freshman quarterback Cooper Rush had the best game of his young career, completing 20 of his 28 pass attempts for 224 yards and three touchdowns, with only one interceptions. One of those touchdowns was a five-yard, game-winning pass to junior receiver Courtney Williams with 22 seconds left that shocked the Homecoming crowd in Athens.

Northern Illinois is undefeated this season, with a 6-0 record and a No. 23 ranking in the AP Poll. Three weeks ago, the Huskies beat Purdue 55-24 in West Lafayette, tied for the biggest margin of victory by a MAC team over a Big Ten team. Along with the victory in West Lafayette, NIU also won at Iowa. Their win over the Hawkeyes is by far their best win. The rest of their wins have not extremely impressive. They have a 10-point win at Idaho, allowing 35 points to the No. 97 offense in the country, a four-point win over Eastern Illinois, a 14-point win over Kent State, who has the No. 106 offense and No. 111 defense, and a seven-point home win over Akron. Even the blowout win over Purdue does not carry as much weight as it would in years past. The Boilermakers are a really bad Big Ten team. They have the No. 119 offense in the country and have lost four of their six games by 30-plus points. Their only win was a six-point win over Indiana State, a FCS opponent.

Despite any issues with the schedule, there is a reason that the Huskies are a 15.5-point favorite in the game. NIU has the No. 14 offense in the country and the best offense in the MAC, averaging 507.8 yards-per-game, one of 17 teams in the nation averaging over 500 ypg. CMU, the 78th-ranked defense in the country, will have a tall task containing that offense. The Chippewas are ranked 105th in offense, averaging just 340 ypg. They have struggled with inconsistency, mainly because of up-and-down quarterback play, but when they've gotten good play from their signal-callers, they've been considerably better. It should help that NIU has the No. 108 defense in the nation.

CMU Rush Offense vs. NIU Rush Defense

The Chippewas are only ranked 98th in the country in rushing offense, mainly because of the struggles they had running the ball in their non-conference games. In MAC play, CMU is averaging 182.67 rushing ypg, including rushing for 208 yards in the win at Ohio. Lavallii has been a revelation since stepping in for Zurlon Tipton, averaging 100.7 ypg, fifth in the conference. He is one of five players in the MAC averaging over 100 rushing ypg. In conference play, Lavallii is averaging 159.7 ypg. Redshirt freshman Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore seems to have taken hold of the No. 2 running back spot for now, getting 10 carries in each of the last two games.

NIU is 60th in rush defense, allowing 155.7 ypg. They were gashed in their two early games, allowing Iowa to run for 202 yards and Idaho to run for 195 yards. The Vandals are 92nd in the country in rush offense and those 195 yards are a season-high. The only other two teams that Idaho has run for 150-plus yards against are Arkansas State (95th in rush defense) and Temple (93rd in rush defense). Eastern Illinois, who has the best offense in FCS, only ran for 127 yards, but that was in a game where EIU threw for 450 yards. The worst rush defense performance of the season for NIU may have been at Purdue, where they allowed the 119th-ranked rush offense in the nation to run for 153 yards. The only other time the Boilermakers have cracked 100 yards this season was against Indiana State and their next highest output against a FBS team was the 65 rushing yards they hung on Cincinnati. Three of their games have seen Purdue rush for less than 50 yards. Kent State, the 81st-ranked rush offense, ran for 147 yards on NIU and Akron only ran for 110 yards on 36 carries, a 3.1 ypc average. However, the Zips have the No. 113 rush offense in the country.

Strong safety Jimmie Ward was on the All-MAC first team last year and on the All-MAC second team in 2011. He is NIU's leading tackler and will drop down to support the run defense. Junior outside linebacker Jamaal Bass has All-MAC talent and is also a playmaker for this defense. He is second in tackles, with 43. Also keep an eye on sophomore middle linebacker Boomer Mays, who is young, but also has all-conference potential.

The Chippewa offensive line has a huge size advantage over the NIU defensive line. The average CMU offensive lineman is 6-foot-4, 303.5 pounds, whereas the average NIU defensive lineman is 6-foot-1.5, 260.5 pounds. The Huskies have a big defensive tackle in senior Ken Bishop, who is 6-foot-1, 308 pounds and could cause the most issues for CMU. Aside from Bishop, the biggest defensive lineman on the two-deep is nose guard Anthony Wells, who is 6-foot-3, 276 pounds. The defensive ends are where NIU is really outmatched in terms of size. George Rainey is 6-foot-2, 222 pounds and Joe Windsor is 6-foot-0, 236 pounds. Windsor has All-MAC talent. The guys after those two seniors aren't any bigger. CMU's offensive line should be able to lean on this group and grind out yards. The Chippewas should also have another big day on the ground, which would keep the prolific NIU offense off the field for extended periods of time.

CMU Pass Offense vs. NIU Pass Defense

There has been a stark difference in the way that Rush has played in wins and how he has played in losses. Here's some numbers for you:

Rush in CMU wins: 61.7 completion percentage, 6 TDs, 2 INTs

Rush in CMU losses: 49.5 completion percentage, 3 TDs, 7 INTs

You hate to put whether a team wins or loses on one kid, but those stats speak volumes. When Cooper Rush plays well, the offense is at another level. A level that allows the Chippewas to compete with the best in the conference. Unfortunately, as a redshirt freshman, it's just hard to tell which Rush is going to show up on a given Saturday. At least it looks like he will have junior receiver Titus Davis back for this game, who had a 92-yard touchdown catch at NIU last fall. Even without Davis, Rush still had a great game against Ohio, which speaks to the depth that CMU has at their skill positions. Without Davis or Jesse Kroll, the Chippewas had guys who could make plays in the passing game, whether it was Williams, Andrew Flory, Anthony Rice or Defarrel Davis. Actually, Rush utilized his tight ends in a big way at Ohio. Ben McCord, Connor Odykirk and Deon Butler combined for six catches, 91 receiving yards and a touchdown.

The Huskies have allowed a ton of pass yards, ranking 115th in the country in pass defense, mainly because Eastern Illinois threw for 450 yards and Purdue went for 371 yards. However, their pass defense is better than that number would lead you to believer. The Huskies are 52nd in pass efficiency defense, which is considerably more respectable. While throwing for 371 yards, Purdue only completed 24 of their 55 pass attempts and threw four interceptions. For the season, NIU has held opponents to a 51.9 completion percentage. Ward leads the Huskies with five interceptions and starting free safety Dechane Durante has three picks on the season. Sophomore cornerback Marlon Moore leads NIU with seven pass deflections. He is a potential All-MAC cornerback and will likely draw the assignment of covering Davis.

Although the CMU offensive line has been excellent in the run game, they have struggled to keep Rush upright, allowing sacks on 7.96 percent of pass attempts, which is 102nd in the country. Ohio, a good pass rushing team, had four sacks, even though Rush only made 28 pass attempts. The Huskies are 50th in the country in sacks-per-pass-attempt, getting to the quarterback on 5.8 percent on pass plays. Pass rush specialist, sophomore defensive end Perez Ford leads NIU in sacks, with four. Windsor has 3.5 and defensive end Jason Meehan has three.

Along with Rush's interceptions in wins versus loss, a significant difference in CMU wins and losses has been turnover margin. The Chippewas are plus-three in turnover margin in their wins and minus-five in their losses. With an offense as good as NIU's on the other sideline, they will need to limit the turnovers to have a chance on Saturday.

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