NIU to fight for three-peat in MAC Champ game Friday


Dave Doeren, former NIU football head coach, poses with the MAC Championship trophy and members of his team at the MAC Championship in Detroit in 2012. After securing the trophy for the second year in a row, NIU was chosen to play in the BCS’s Orange Bowl.

By Brian Earle

Football is heading back to Detroit for the fourth consecutive season, this time with a chance for a three-peat when it takes on Bowling Green for the MAC Championship 7 p.m. Friday at Ford Field in Detroit.

The Falcons’ (9-3, 7-1 MAC) defensive unit will present one last test to NIU (12-0, 8-0 MAC) as it will be the best defense it has faced. Bowling Green is the No. 7 defense in college football, surrendering just 296.6 total yards per game.

“Well, they attack the line of scrimmage with their front four, and then on third down they’re not afraid to get after you with the blitz and play in man-to-man coverage,” said head coach Rod Carey in a news conference.

“That group has played together for three years, so if you put those three things together — everyone likes to talk about the Big Ten with Michigan State’s defense, I’ve seen some of their film through crossover games, very similar attitude. They attack. That gives you a point of reference. I think that’s what makes them tough.”

Bowling Green gives up an average of 13.8 points per game, ranking them fifth in the nation in points allowed. In their last four games combined, the Falcons have given up a total of 17 points.

Where Bowling Green has thrived as a defense this season is in the red zone. The Falcons are No. 1 in the nation in red zone defense, giving up just 15 touchdowns in the red zone on 26 attempts.

“Their defensive line is right up there with Iowa’s defensive line; same thing with their linebackers,” said offensive coordinator Bob Cole in a news conference. “That’s the best front seven we’ve seen all year up until this point in time, and they’re as good as them, maybe not better.

“I think the thing they’ve got going for them now is they’ve been together, I think they have seven or eight kids that have played together for three years on the defensive side of the ball.”

On the flip side, the Huskies come into the MAC Championship as one of the most explosive offensive juggernauts in college football this season. The Huskies are the No. 4 offense in the nation, averaging 542.3 yards per contest, and are led by Jordan Lynch, Heisman candidate and redshirt senior quarterback.

What this game could come down to is the Falcons’ ability to stop the Huskies’ ground game. NIU has the fourth-best rushing attack in the nation, running for an average of 318.9 yards per game.

Lynch has been a big part of the ground game for the Huskies as he is the nation’s third-highest rusher, running for 1,755 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Bowling Green has the best rush defense in the MAC and only gives up an average of 134.8 yards per game. It will be interesting to see if the Falcons’ defense will be able to do what no one in college football has accomplished this season: slow down Lynch.

“They’re extremely sound, they’re well-coached and they fit in their gaps,” Cole said in a news conference. “You’re rarely going to find them out of position, and they’re aggressive. Then they have good enough defensive backs where they can sit there and play man to man on you, so they can do a lot of things up front with their front seven, so it’s gonna be a good challenge for us. They’re a good football team.”