(21) Northern Illinois (8-0) at Massachusetts (1-7)|
Saturday, November 2, 12:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 21st-ranked Northern Illinois Huskies take aim at their 14th
consecutive road victory on Saturday when they invade Gillette Stadium for a
Mid-American Conference tilt versus the Massachusetts Minutemen.
Northern Illinois has not missed a beat under first-year head coach Rod Carey
as it enters with a perfect 8-0 record, including a 3-0 mark versus conference
foes. The Huskies are currently on the longest active conference winning
streak in the nation having defeated their last 21 MAC opponents. They
extended the streak and notched their 24th consecutive home win last week with
a 59-20 rout of Eastern Michigan in DeKalb. NIU's last road and conference
loss came on Sept, 1, 2011 at Central Michigan.
The Minutemen are coming off of a heartbreaking, 31-30, home loss to Western
Michigan that dropped them to a 1-7 overall record and 1-3 MAC standing. Coach
Charley Molnar made a gutsy call as he elected to try a two-point conversion
after Lorenzo Woodley scored on a two-yard run with only 22 seconds left to
bring Massachusetts within a single point of the Broncos. Molnar's career
record fell to 2-18 after A.J. Doyle overshot a wide open Elgin Long on the
conversion attempt. The Minutemen's only triumph of the season came over the
winless Miami-Ohio RedHawks.
The Huskies dominated UMass en route to a 63-0 decision last season in the
first conference tilt between the schools in DeKalb. The Minutemen are 2-10
through their first 12 games of MAC play.
NIU is pacing the MAC in several offensive categories including scoring
offense (41.9 ppg), total offense (537.1 ypg), rushing (307.5 ypg) and first
downs (26.1). The Huskies' dominance is in large part due to the tremendous
play of senior quarterback Jordan Lynch, who finished last week's victory over
EMU with four passing touchdowns, one rushing score and a touchdown reception.
In addition to being the fourth-best rusher in the nation with 1,031 yards,
Lynch has completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 1,711 yards and 18
touchdowns with only five interceptions.
"He may be one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country," said
Molnar on Lynch. "Beyond the obvious physical skill set that he has, he's a
great runner and above-average passer. He really is the brains behind their
offense when he is out there on the field. He does it all; he's the
unequivocal leader for their football team."
Cameron Stingily has also been a big factor in NIU's success, as he has
carried the ball 133 times for 726 yards and seven scores himself. Stingily
missed last week due to turf toe, but Carey expects him to play Saturday. More
help is on the way as Akeem Daniels, who contributed 447 yards and nine TDs in
2012, is also nearing a return. Tommylee Lewis (58 rec., 507 yards, three TDs)
and Da'Ron Brown (33 rec., 480 yards, seven TDs) are Lynch's most frequent
The Huskies were shaky on the defensive side of the ball at the start of the
season, but they have clearly developed into a solid unit. They are permitting
an average of 25.8 ppg, while stifling opposing ball carriers to only 146.1
ypg to rank second in the MAC in rushing defense. NIU is still last among the
13 teams in the conference versus the pass with an allowance of 284.4 ypg.
Jimmy Ward has helped the two-time defending MAC champions overcome their
weakness against strong passing attacks with a team-high 56 tackles and five
interceptions. Boomer Mays has also been a force with 43 stops, four TFL and
"We know our rankings, but we have the mindset of every week, we're 0-0, and
we have to face our next opponent, and we're looking forward to Saturday,"
said Mays. "I feel like we're steadily progressing and building on each week.
I think that's key in what we're doing to establish ourselves as a defense."
NIU could pitch another shutout against the Minutemen this season as Molnar's
offense is currently ranked last in the nation in scoring (10.6 ppg) and just
a few spots higher than that in terms of total offense (283.6 ypg).
After competing with Mike Wegzyn for playing time early in the season, Doyle
has taken over as the full-time starter under center. The sophomore
quarterback has completed 56.5 percent of his pass attempts for 1,045 yards
and five touchdowns to go with five interceptions. Doyle performed well versus
WMU last week prior to his late miscue, completing 15-of-24 passes for 194
yards and a touchdown. Senior tight end Rob Branchflower showed why he is
considered an NFL prospect as he reeled in seven catches for 131 yards and a
touchdown against the Broncos. Branchflower, who has only played in five
games, is the second most productive pass catcher on UMass behind Tajae
Sharpe, who has compiled 474 yards and three scores on 46 receptions.
The Minutemen's rushing attack has been hindered by injuries that have forced
Molnar to rotate different players in his backfield. He may have located the
tailback of the future in Woodley, who set single-game career highs with 16
carries and 58 yards. The freshman running back's late TD run was the first of
his career as well.
UMass is slightly better on the defensive side of the ball as it ranks in the
middle of the pack in the conference in scoring defense (28.9). However, it is
allowing 435.9 ypg. The Minutemen's performance against WMU last week was not
very encouraging as the Broncos entered the contest averaging less than 14 ppg
and tallied 31 points. Sophomore defensive back Khary Bailey-Smith gave the
team a lift when he returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for the first
touchdown of his career last week. Justin Anderson has registered a team-high
four sacks on the season. None of his teammates have recorded more than a
single QB takedown.
The Minutemen's woes are understandable considering they are just in their
second full season at the FBS level. Molnar will need time to before UMass
will be ready to compete with an established program like NIU. The Huskies are
one of eight teams left in the nation without a loss and just one of two in
the West Division with a perfect MAC record. With its desired trips back to
the MAC Championship and a BCS Bowl at stake each week, NIU will be focused
regardless of its opponent.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Northern Illinois 49, Massachusetts 3
10/30 10:34:41 ET