DeKALB – Northern Illinois will play its bowl game sometime in December, maybe early January.
First, the Huskies have to worry about today’s game against Eastern Michigan then it’s the Mid-American Conference Championship Game against No. 23 Kent State in Detroit next Friday.
NIU, who is ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press Poll and 23rd in the USA Today Coaches Poll, has Eastern Michigan on its minds this week.
The Huskies will be going bowling for a fifth consecutive season while Eastern Michigan’s last bowl appearance was 1987, when the Eagles beat San Jose State in the California Bowl.
NIU coach Dave Doeren’s team enters the game as a heavy favorite, but Doeren still expects the Eagles’ best effort. To him, it’s basically a postseason game for Eastern Michigan.
“This is their bowl game. This is their last game of the year,” Doeren said. “We’re going to see everything. When you’re going to the MAC Championship game and you’re ranked, the teams you play are always going to get up for that kind of challenge as competitors.”
Last season, Eastern Michigan finished 6-6 – one win away from bowl eligibility due to the fact the Eagles played two Football Championship Subdivision schools. However, Eastern Michigan has taken a step back in head coach Ron English’s fourth season, sitting at just 2-9 and 1-6 in MAC play. But the Eagles did get a 29-23 win at Western Michigan last week.
When the teams met at Huskie Stadium last season, Eastern Michigan gave NIU all it could handle before falling, 18-12.
This year’s team isn’t the same. The Eagles lost six starters off last year’s defense.
It’s showed, as Eastern Michigan ranks 12th in the MAC in scoring defense (36.5 points per game) and 13th in total defense (484.7 yards per game). The Eagles can’t stop the run, giving up 268.8 yards per game, last in the conference, something which could clearly benefit NIU.
“They are kind of like us last year on defense to be honest with you,” Doeren said. “You see the talent but they are just not consistently where they want to be. They are well-coached and their schemes are sound and they are still getting experience and things like that.”
On offense, the Eagles rank last in the MAC in scoring (22.6 points per game).
One thing Eastern does bring to the table is a two-quarterback system. The Eagles will use both sophomore Tyler Benz and senior Alex Gillett, who brings a running threat. Gillett started the first three games of the season, but Benz has gotten most of the work with Gillett spending some time at receiver as well.
“It makes it a little difficult, but we already have our game plan in for both of them,” NIU sophomore linebacker Jamaal Bass said of preparing for Benz and Gillett. “One of them (Gillett) is primarily a runner and the other one is primarily a passer.”
With the way the Huskies have played since the season-opening loss to Iowa, winning 10 consecutive games, combined with the Eagles’ struggles, this afternoon’s contest could be considered a trap game. The game will be played in front of a fairly empty stadium and the MAC Championship Game against Kent State is just around the corner.
However, Doeren is confident his team isn’t going to look ahead.
“We are not going to do that,” Doeren said. “Our guys have already addressed it and talked about it.”