Northern Illini A Major Challenge For Illini

The Fighting Illini face another in-state opponent this Saturday morning at Memorial Stadium. Northern Illinois is the favorite for the Mid-America Conference West title and has more than 50 athletes from the home state. The Huskies will bring a talented, experienced squad to Memorial Stadium with every expectation of winning.

The Northern Illinois University Huskie football team has many reasons for motivation when playing Illinois Saturday. They want to beat the state school, and they have numerous players who were not recruited by the Illini. But they may have even more incentive if head coach Jerry Kill isn't on the sidelines.

Kill is in his third year at NIU and has led them to back-to-back bowl games. Coaching for four universities, he has a record of 118-71-0. Unfortunately, he was hospitalized after his team's victory over North Dakota last Saturday, and his status is uncertain at this time. If he is unable to make the trip, his team will undoubtedly dedicate the game to him.

The Illini didn't need the Huskies to have any extra incentive. After all, they have plenty of talent and experience throughout their lineup, and they have proven in the past they can rise up and beat Big 10 teams. Purdue was their latest victim last season.

After losing at Iowa State to begin the season, NIU defeated North Dakota last Saturday. The Huskies amassed 501 yards of total offense, led by the running of quarterback Chandler Harnish (6'-2", 219) and senior tailback Chad Spann (5'-9", 198).

Harnish rushed 21 times for 178 yards and a touchdown on the ground and was 14 of 25 through the air for 146 yards and a touchdown. He replaced DeMarcus Grady (6'-1", 203), who was inconsistent against Iowa State. Both are redshirt juniors.

Spann leads the MAC with 220 yards in two games. He has 1748 career rushing yards and is quick and aggressive. NIU has had a number of outstanding runners over the years, and Spann ranks 5th with an average of 5.53 yards per carry. He is backed by junior transfer Jasmin Hopkins (5'-9", 174) and senior Ricky Crider (5'-9", 190). Senior Kyle Skarb (6'-2", 226) blocks for Spann from the fullback slot.

The receivers include sophomore Martel Moore (6'-2", 182), junior Willie Clark (6'-1", 206), junior Nathan Palmer ((5'-11", 197), senior Landon Cox (6'-3", 220) and sophomore Perez Ashford (5'-10", 180). Ashford caught six passes against North Dakota. Tight ends Jason Schepler, a 6'-3", 265 junior, and junior Jack Marks (6'-6", 229) haven't caught any passes yet but are prominent in the powerful Huskie ground game.

Tackle starters are Trevor Olson (6'-6", 306) and Keith Otis (6'-4", 324). The guards are Logan Pegram (6'-3", 312) and Joe Pawlak (6'-5", 301), and the center is Scott Wedige (6'-4", 300). All are redshirt juniors except for redshirt sophomore Pegram. Otis and Pawlak are from Illinois.

The defensive leader is redshirt junior safety Tracy Wilson (6'-2", 203). He led the team in tackles in 2009 and is the leading tackler through their first two games of the 2010 season.

Twenty-six year old Marine Corps veteran Jake Coffman (6'-5", 255) returns for his final season at defensive end. He is joined by fellow seniors Mike Krause (6'-4", 265), a nose guard, and defensive tackle D.J. Pirkle (6'-0", 283). The other starter is sophomore end Sean Progar (6'-3, 255). The Huskies boast 8 Illinois high school graduates in their defensive line depth chart.

The linebacker corps is young. Middle backer Devon Butler (5'-11", 224) is a sophomore, and he is backed by freshmen. Romeoville's Cameron Stingily (6'-2", 240) and Bolingbrook's Mike Hellams (6'-1", 220) both played against North Dakota.

Senior Alex Kube (6'-0", 228) starts at SAM, but he is backed by Crete-Monee freshman Greg Barksdale (6'-2", 210). At the WILL, sophomore Tyrone Clark (5'-11", 214) is the starter.

Joining Wilson at the free safety position is sophomore free safety Tommy Davis (5'-11", 201). He is listed as either/or with Mike Sobol (6'-0", 203). The senior Sobol had ACL surgery four months ago and has made a remarkably fast recovery. Seniors Patrick George (5'-11" 196) and Kiaree Daniels (5'-10", 196) man one cornerback spot, and the other is shared between Chris Smith, a 5'-10", 186 pound senior, and sophomore Rashaan Melvin (6'-2", 186).

Former Illini kickoff specialist Mike Cklamovski graduated from the UI and is now in law school at Northern. He handles kickoffs and long field goals for the Huskies in his final year of eligibility. Freshman Michael Sims replaced Cklamovski for the shorter field goals during the Iowa State loss and proved consistent. Junior Josh Wilber is the punter. He netted 38.7 yards per punt against North Dakota.

NIU struggled against Iowa State on the road as Grady didn't demonstrate consistency at quarterback. Harnish stabilized the offense and gave the Huskies momentum going into the Illinois game. With or without Coach Kill roaming the sideline, they are a major obstacle for the Illini in their quest for two in a row.

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