Central Michigan enters the weekend tied for first with Toledo in the MAC West following last weekend's 21-17 win over the Rockets in Kelly/Shorts Stadium. The Chippewas and Rockets are both 4-1 in conference contests. The Chippewas enter Saturday's game against NIU having won four straight overall, the program's longest winning streak since the 1994 MAC championship season.
"Our kids know that there is more out there," CMU head coach Brian Kelly said. "Last weekend's win means nothing if we don't win this week. To win consistently, you have to have a demeanor about yourself in which you focus on the immediate and not worry about the future or the past."
After finishing the month of October a perfect 4-0, the Chippewas open the regular season's final month against a Northern Illinois program that has established itself as a perennial MAC West title contender. The Huskies have developed an efficient offensive attack that ranks among the conference's best; they lead the MAC in total offense (459.1 ypg), while a Northern Illinois back has led the conference in rushing each of the past three seasons.
"More than anything, their tradition is what stands out," Kelly said. "They have beaten us seven years in a row, so they are going to come in here with a lot of confidence. If there was one game on our schedule where we felt we were not mentally tough last season, it was the Northern Illinois game. Our guys will be reminded of that this week."
CMU will counter that attack with a defense that has improved weekly this season. The Chippewas held Toledo, averaging 39.4 points per game, to just 17 points last weekend, and have held each of their past five opponents without a touchdown after halftime. In its last five outings, CMU has surrendered a total of just 18 points (six field goals) in the second half. The Chippewas rank second in the MAC in scoring defense, allowing 21.8 points per outing, and have held each of their past four opponents to 17 points or less.
"I think there are a couple of things that play into that," Kelly said. "The first is gameplan recognition. Our players are very well prepared each week, and by the second half our kids feel like they have a pretty good sense of what the other team is doing. Our physical conditioning is excellent as well. We're playing a lot of players, which means our kids are fresh late in the ballgame."
The Chippewa defense has held five straight opponents without a second-half touchdown.
Offensively, senior quarterback Kent Smith has carried the CMU offense in recent weeks. He has accounted for six touchdowns in the past two games (four passing, two rushing) and was at his best last weekend on CMU's three scoring marches. Against Toledo, Smith was a combined 10-of-12 passing for 111 yards and ran eight times for 37 yards on CMU's three drives that resulted in touchdowns.
This weekend, he will call the signals against an NIU defense that ranks second in the MAC in yards allowed (314.2 ypg) and third in scoring defense (23.9 ppg). Junior safety Dustin Utschig leads the unit with 62 total tackles, while senior end Quince Holman has collected 8-1/2 tackles for loss, including four sacks.
CMU closes the regular season with road trips to Western Michigan next weekend and Ball State on Nov. 19. The Western Michigan contest has been selected as the MAC Television Game of the Week, while the finale at Ball State will air on Comcast Sports Net Detroit.
Western Michigan Game Selected MAC TV Game of the Week
CMU's Nov. 12 contest at Western Michigan has been selected as the MAC Television Game of the Week. The contest will be televised on FSN Ohio, Comcast Local, Comcast Sports Net Chicago, and Adelphia 13 (Buffalo). Dave Weekley (play-by-play) and Bob Chmiel (color commentary) will call the game from the booth, while Brooke Weisbrod will report from the sidelines. With the addition of the Western Michigan game to the television schedule, the Chippewas will play in front of seven live TV audiences in 2005.
CMU Closes Out Home Schedule Against NIU
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