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October 18, 2013

5 Keys: Northern Illinois

Last week's win certainly heightened the impact of CMU's upcoming matchup vs. No. 23 Northern Illinois. The Chippewas now sit at 3-4 overall, but 2-1 in the MAC, giving them their first winning conference record at any point in the Dan Enos era. A win vs. the Huskies on Saturday would immediately thrust CMU back into the West Division picture, a place many fans thought was a long shot just a few weeks ago.

Northern Illinois comes in at 6-0 overall and has aspirations of a BCS buster for the second straight year. But history provides an interesting footnote in this matchup. The last time the Huskies lost a regular season game? That would be in 2011 when they traveled to Kelly/Shorts Stadium and lost to CMU 48-41.

Will history repeat itself? Look below as we list the Five Keys for the Chippewas to upset NIU.

1) A Tale of Turnovers
-This one is kind of cheating, because CMU head coach Dan Enos basically came out and said the same thing: Turnovers will dictate this game. Last week the Chippewas forced four Ohio turnovers, including an interception in the redzone and a muffed punt to set up their final drive. And they did it against a quarterback in Tyler Tettleton who was known for his smart decisions and lack of turnovers. CMU has three wins, and they have won the turnover battle in two of those, with the Miami (OH) game standing as an outlier. Needless to say, if they can win the turnover margin, they will greatly improve their upset chances.

2) Will The Real Defense Please Stand Up

-Northern Illinois is coming into this game averaging 39.7 points per game, and they have dropped 55, 41 and 33 points on CMU the past three years. In the first five games of this season, the CMU defense gave up point totals of 59, 31, 38 and 48. But something has looked different about the Chippewas the past two weeks. They gave up only 9 points to a terrible Miami (OH) offense, but also held a strong Ohio squad to just 23 points last week. They have been creating turnovers, limiting big plays and eliminating some of the breakdowns that have killed them in the past. DT Leterrius Walton has been playing like a man possessed and the front seven has tightened up their run defense. While CMU is ranked No. 10 in the MAC in scoring defense (32.7 PPG allowed), they actually rank No. 5 in total defense (413.3 YPG allowed). Looking deeper, the CMU defense has had short fields as a result of offensive turnovers and been particular awful in the redzone, allowing opponents to score 89% of the time. This will be a true test to see if they are developing into a competitive defense, or simply got lucky the past few weeks.

3) From LeFevour to Lynch
-Bring up the name Dan Lefevour to many MAC fans, and they will probably throw out a few curse words regarding the former Chippewa QB and his many exploits. He won, and no matter what the circumstances were, he found a way to move the football and put points on the board. NIU has a player in that same rare category in Jordan Lynch. He led the Huskies to the Orange Bowl last season and had almost 5,000 total yards last season. And his dual-threat abilities are a nightmare for defenses to deal with, especially for teams like CMU who have had to sellout one way or the other to make stops in the past. This will be the first time Lynch travels into Mt. Pleasant as a starter, as Chandler Harnish was the signal called in the Huskies 2011 loss to CMU. The Chippewas will have to limit the damage he does and find a way to keep the ball out of his hands with the game on the line.

4) Super Cooper

-Last week we said the play of redshirt-freshman QB Cooper Rush would be a key, and boy was it. Rush played arguably his best game of the season and didn't have a forced interception for the first time in his career. Even more impressive was the way he stood in the pocket under duress, as the Ohio defense hit him over and over again. More impressive than that? He did it without his top WR in Titus Davis. Davis should be back this week and NIU comes in with the MAC's worst pass defense, allowing over 300-yards per game and 460.2 total yards per game. Rush will have his chances to make some big plays in the air, it will be up to the offensive line and his decision making to make it a reality.

5) Home Crowd Getting Loud

-It's been a few years since the Chippewas have had a meaningful home game in October. What was once the MAC's toughest home field advantage has lost some if it's luster, but when Kelly/Shorts is full and rocking it counts as one of the conferences toughest venues. There is a lot at stake in this game, and the fans/students should be all on board. If the Chippewas pull this win off, they hold their own destiny and a second straight bowl birth is well within reach. Even more important? CMU would be in contention for the MAC West for the first time since 2009. They will need every advantage they can get against Northern Illinois, and the atmosphere will be huge.

Stick to ChippewaCountry for the latest in CMU athletics and recruiting

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