KICKOFF: Saturday, 3 p.m. ET
SITE: Kelly/Shorts Stadium, Mount Pleasant, Mich.
SERIES: CMU leads 25-22-1 (last meeting, 2012, 55-24 NIU).
AP RANKINGS: Northern Illinois No. 23, Central Michigan unranked
KEYS TO THE GAME
Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey wasn't pleased with his team's effort in a 27-20 win over Akron last Saturday. The Zips, who have won four games in the last three-plus season, gave the No.23 Huskies an unexpected fight to the final whistle. Akron had a chance to tie the game on its final drive, but NIU's defense made a defensive stop.
The Zips controlled the clock, limited NIU to 1-for-15 on third downs and scored 14 points in the first quarter.
"It was terrible," Carey said of the third down woes. "It wasn't a rhythm problem. It was just poor execution."
The Huskies (6-0, 2-0) enter Saturday's game at Central Michigan with some concern after their lackluster performance. Sure, the Zips battled Michigan to the final play in Ann Arbor earlier this season. But a week before the NIU game, the Zips dropped a 43-3 decision at Ohio, the same team that lost to Central Michigan at home last Saturday.
The Chippewas were expected to improve on last season's strong finish behind a strong offense and improving defense. The Chippewas had some uncertainty at quarterback after losing three-year starter Ryan Radcliff. Those problems become more troublesome after injuries to CMU Alex Kater and top tailback Zurlon Tipton hampered the offense.
But CMU redshirt freshman Cooper Rush has played strong in spurts, including leading the Chippewas on a last-second game-winning touchdown drive to beat the Bobcats last Saturday. The NIU defense might not have to contend with CMU star wide receiver Titus Davis, who missed last week's game with a shoulder injury. The Huskies are allowing 460.2 yards per game this season, ranking 10th in the conference.
Carey said the defense is a work in progress, especially after playing two Big Ten teams on the road this season.
"I trust what I see on the field," he said. "I have a lot of faith in our defense."
Northern Illinois senior quarterback Jordan Lynch hit a major milestone against Akron. He became the 10th quarterback in FBS history to pass for more than 4,000 career yards and rush for more than 3,000 career yards.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--QB Jordan Lynch completed just 45.7 percent of his passes against an Akron team not known for defense. Lynch entered the Akron game completing 63.8 percent of his passes. "I think more upset, angry would correct word," Carey said of Lynch's evaluation of the Akron game. "He's gotten over that feeling now, and he's moving forward."
--RB Cameron Stingily failed to rush for 100 yards against Akron. A week earlier, Stingily ran for 266 yards at Kent State. His arrest six days before the Akron game for failure to appear in court might have played a factor in his play against Akron.
--SS Jimmie Ward continues to pick off passes despite injuries. He injured his finger against Akron, but that won't stop him. He has five interceptions in six games, including four in his last four games. He had one interception against Akron.
--RB Saylor Lavallii has stepped up in star tailback Zurlon Tipton's absence, rushing for career highs in his last two games to lead the team with 705 yards. He's averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
--QB Cooper Rush is a redshirt freshman filling in for Cody Kater (broken clavicle), but he's proving he is not to be taken lightly. Rush has completed 54.8 percent of his passes for 1,304 yards in six games. Look for NIU's defense to try and take over the game with turnovers. NIU is plus-seven in turnover margin, with Rush throwing nine interceptions in 188 attempts.