Key players: Temple’s Matt Brown, Bernard Pierce; NIU’s Chad Spann

By Jerry Burnes

Temple – Matt Brown, So., RB and Bernard Pierce, Sr., RB

Illinois had a two-headed monster at running back, but even they don’t compare to the ground attack of sophomores Matt Brown and Bernard Pierce.

With Pierce out, Brown took off for 225 yards and four touchdowns in Temple‘s 42-35 victory over Army last week. He also picked up 48 yards on 12 carries against then-ranked Penn State two weeks ago when Pierce went down.

Brown has been a touchdown hound this season, sniffing out the end zone five times in just 68 carries and 10 times so far in his career (157 carries).

“[Brown] has some get up and go to him,” said NIU head coach Jerry Kill. “He’s just different. He reminds me a lot of Garrett Wolfe. He has that kind of talent.”

Don’t fall asleep on Pierce, a preseason Heisman candidate. He has gained 343 yards and five touchdowns this year as well. He’s also coming off a 2009 where he gained 1,361 yards and 16 touchdowns as a freshman.

At 6’6″, 218 pounds, he’s the primary back when 100 percent but his health is in question this week after a high ankle sprain.

“[Pierce] is a freak of nature,” Kill added. “I don’t think there’s any question about that.”

NIU – Chad Spann, Sr. RB

This game really is a battle of the premier Mid-American Conference running backs. Chad Spann currently leads the MAC in rushing with 542 yards and five touchdowns.

The Huskie offense is about as balanced as an offense can be of late but Kill comes from the pedigree of running the football.

In NIU’s three wins this season Spann has averaged over five yards a carry, while averaging 4.7 in the Iowa State loss and 1.2 in the loss to Illinois.

He’s rushed for over 100 yards against North Dakota (140) and Minnesota (223) and has found the end zone in four consecutive games.

“I believe our running backs take pride in the running back matchup,” said NIU running back Ricky Crider. “…I think it’s all on the offensive line. If they do well, we’re going to have success running.”