Huskies face upset-minded Chippewas

By Frank Gogola

Central Michigan, the last MAC team to beat NIU at Huskie Stadium, will attempt to spoil NIU’s 108th Homecoming this weekend.

The Huskies (4-1, 1-0 MAC) will host the Central Michigan Chippewas (3-3, 1-1 MAC) 4 p.m. Saturday at Huskie Stadium. The Huskies have won 21 consecutive MAC home games since the Chippewas downed them, 33-30, Nov. 12, 2008, in DeKalb.

After surviving a scare to open conference play Saturday against the Kent State Golden Flashes, the Huskies take on a Chippewas team that continues to improve. The Chippewas’ 21.2 points per game ranks 107th in the FBS, but their 28 points per game in MAC play ranks seventh in the conference. They lost to the Toledo Rockets, 42-28, Sept. 27 and beat the Ohio Bobcats, 28-10, Saturday.

“They’re a much improved football team … not to slight them in any way, shape or form from last year because they were a good team last year, too,” said head coach Rod Carey. “This is going to be another conference game. It’s going to be a big-boy slugfest. It’s one of those games where it comes down to matchups and who wants it more… .”

The Chippewas’ offense has been aided by the return of senior wide receiver Titus Davis, who returned to the lineup for CMU’s conference opener against Toldeo after missing games two, three and four. Davis is averaging 106.7 receiving yards per game and has scored two touchdowns in three games.

“He is a difference-maker,” Carey said. “He is one of the finest wideouts in the conference, if not in the country. He is special. He is probably not even 100 percent, and he still had 10 catches for 181 yards [against Ohio]. I’m sure he’s getting healthier each day, which is going to be a great challenge for us to go ahead and try to hold him down. You’re not going to stop him from getting catches.”

Carey also placed an emphasis on containing junior wide receiver Jesse Kroll and senior running back Thomas Rawls.

Kroll has hauled in a team-high 19 receptions and three touchdowns, picking up 289 yards along the way.

“He’s a really good player,” Carey said. “That really causes you some problems when you got one [wide receiver] over there and one over here. That’s an issue.”

Rawls has carried Central Michigan’s ground game this season. He’s rushed for 570 of the Chippewas’ 773 yards and seven of their eight rushing touchdowns.

“If he’s not in that class of those Arkansas backs that we played earlier in the year, he’s maybe just a tick below,” Carey said. “I’d probably put him in that class myself. I mean, he’s right there. He’s a downhill, physical runner who has great elusiveness and good speed.”

In addition to being the last MAC team to beat NIU at Huskie Stadium, the Chippewas are the last MAC team to beat NIU in the regular season (Oct. 1, 2011). The Huskies will put their 28-game home winning streak and 24-game MAC winning streak on the line.

“Every week we know we got a target on our back in this conference and we’re going to get every team’s best shot, and we like the challenge,” said offensive lineman Levon Myers. “We love going out there and taking the team’s best shot.”