GAME NOTES: Control of first place in the Mid-American Conference's West Division will be on the line when the Toledo Rockets charge into Huskie Stadium to take on Northern Illinois.
NIU sits atop the standings with a perfect 6-0 league record. The Rockets are fresh off their first conference loss of the season, but are trailing the Huskies by just a game and would take control of the tie-breaker with a win.
Toledo had a short-lived stay in the top 25 as it suffered a 34-27 upset loss to Ball State last Tuesday. The setback ended an eight-game winning streak, but Matt Campbell's team still has an impressive 19-3 record in its past 22 MAC games. The Rockets are 3-1 on the road this season, with the lone loss coming in an season-opening overtime thriller at Arizona.
Coach Dave Doeren has to be pleased his team will be playing its biggest game of the season at home. NIU owns both the longest home winning streak and longest conference winning streak at 20 and 14 games, respectively. The Huskies won their ninth game in a row on Nov. 3 as they ran past Massachusetts for a 63-0 decision. NIU has dominated in recent weeks and outscored its last six opponents, 283-91, which gives it an average margin of victory of just over 30 points per game during that span. As if there was not already enough pressure on the Huskies, they are also on the verge of cracking the top 25.
This will be the 40th meeting in history between these programs. NIU edged Toledo in a memorable 66-63 shooting in last season's edition for its second straight win in the series. The Rockets still hold a commanding 29-10 lead in the all-time series.
Toledo has a very balanced and effective offensive attack. The Rockets have shown the ability to light up the scoreboard, but they have been held under 30 points in each of their past three outings. The Rockets are still fourth in the conference in scoring (33.6 ppg) and fourth in total offense (461.8 ypg). Their last time out, the Rockets outgained the Cardinals in total yards of offense, 526-446, but could not overcome 110 penalty yards.
David Fluellen is unstoppable as of late. The junior running back tallied 200 yards on 34 carries against Ball State to eclipse the century mark for the sixth straight game and the 200-yard mark for the second consecutive game. Fluellen has piled up 1,381 yards and 12 touchdowns on 230 carries, which tied him for second in the FBS in rushing production.
The Rockets' aerial attack features two of the MAC's most productive wideouts in speedy Bernard Reedy and Alonzo Russell. Reedy leads the team with 901 yards, 68 receptions, and six touchdown catches. The junior wideout has also collected multiple West Division Special Teams Player of the Week awards for his efforts in the return game. Russell is more of a big play type of receiver with 766 yards on only 44 receptions.
Terrance Owens did his job as the team's game manager his last time out, finishing 14-of-27 for 215 yards with one touchdown. The junior quarterback has been steady under center for the majority of the season before a recent slump. Owens has completed 64.7 percent (187-of-301) of his passes for 2,412 yards, 14 touchdowns, and five interceptions.
Although Toledo's defense hasn't been able to slow down opponents, it has been able to force turnovers when needed to keep foes from putting points on the board. Toledo is ranked second in the FBS in turnover margin. The Rockets are only ninth in the MAC in total defense (464.1 ypg), but are fifth in points allowed (27.4 ppg).
The Rockets are led by the nation's leading tackler, Dan Molls, who has already recorded 132 total stops. Molls made 16 tackles his last time out. Jermaine Robinson has made some spectacular plays and is tied for second in the MAC with four interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.
The Huskies seem to be unstoppable since their week-one loss to Iowa and currently owns MAC leading averages of 40.6 points and 478 yards per game. Its last time out, NIU gained 610 yards of total offense against a helpless UMass defense.
Jordan Lynch is at the center of NIU's attack and may be the most explosive quarterback in the nation. He has already set a new NCAA record for most-100 rushing games by a quarterback with nine. Lynch leads the FBS's quarterbacks in rushing yards (1,342), total offense (3,517), and points responsible for (35 total TDs)
Martel Moore is Lynch's primary target in the passing game. Moore has reeled in 51 passes for 746 yards and eight of the team's 20 touchdown receptions. Tommylee Lewis (394) and Ashford Perez (229) have both managed to tally over 200 receiving yards as well. Jamison Wells and Luke Eakes have a chance to step up this week with Perez questionable due to an ankle injury.
Defensively, NIU allows opponents to gain decent yardage but still manages to keep teams from lighting up the scoreboard. Due to their bend but not break mentality, the Huskies have the second best scoring defense (17.9) in the MAC.
Sean Progar, Joe Windsor, and Alan Baxter have all shown great pass rushing ability this season. Progar has recorded eight sacks and 8.5 total tackles for loss, Windsor has 10 TFLs and 6.5 sacks, Baxter has produced seven sacks and nine TFLs. Tyrone Clark (71) and Jimmie Ward (70) are first and second on the team in total tackles, respectively.
The Rockets have as good a chance as any MAC school at knocking off NIU. Toledo may be coming off of a tough loss, but it was to a respectable opponent in a hard-fought game. The Huskies are clear favorites to win the MAC Championship again, but they will be tested a few more times before being crowned.