Running back combos set stage for MAC battle


NIU running back Chad Spann evades Minnesota defenders in the Huskie’s 34-23 victory.

By Chris Dertz

The Huskies know they have an important game this weekend.

Starting quarterback Chandler Harnish said as much, calling Saturday’s matchup against Temple a game between what he feels are the two best teams in the MAC.

“I think it’s huge to have that homefield advantage against Temple,” Harnish said. “We’ve been on the road for four out of the last five weeks, and honestly it’s pretty exhausting.”

The Huskies (3-2 overall, 1-0 MAC) will face the top team in the MAC East in Temple (4-1, 1-0) in what is only their second game in DeKalb this season.

NIU is coming off of a 50-14 drubbing of Akron last week to open its MAC slate, in which Harnish threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns. This performance followed the previous week’s 297-yard team rushing effort at Minnesota.

“To come out with a balanced offense is tough to defend,” Harnish said. “If we can have a balanced attack against Temple, I think we’ll have a great shot to win.”

While a steady dose of running and passing may lead the NIU offense past the Owls, the Huskie defense will have its hands full with Temple’s two-headed running attack.

Temple tailbacks Matt Brown and Bernard Pierce will have a giant offensive line to run behind, and while the Huskies’ defensive line has played well, the tandem could give them problems.

“We’ve played some teams that are big, physical teams,” said NIU head coach Jerry Kill. “Minnesota came straight downhill with the football and we did a pretty good job.”

Minnesota didn’t have rushers like Temple does. While Pierce gets a lot of the attention, Brown had a coming out party against Army last week. The sophomore ran for 226 yards and four touchdowns on 28 carries.

It will be up to the defensive line of NIU to contain the running back tandem of the Owls to give the Huskies a chance.

“Knowing that they have two good backs definitely is an added challenge for us,” said NIU defensive tackle D.J. Pirkle. “It’s a challenge that we’re looking forward to. As a defense we pride ourselves on stopping the run first and making them pass.”

Not that NIU’s running backs won’t have anything to say about the outcome. Senior tailback Chad Spann is coming off of an 84-yard, one touchdown performance against Akron, and leads the MAC with 542 yards and five touchdowns on the season.

With each team’s ability to break tackles in the running game, the outcome may be decided by something as simple as which defense tackles better. This is an area Kill thinks his team has improved upon greatly.

“If you can get some three and outs and you don’t have any three and outs on offense, you have a chance to be productive,” Kill said. “That’s the key to football.”