Eastern Michigan is coming off of a 51-24 loss at Maryland last week. These two teams have a lot on common. Both schools are still looking for their first win against a Division I team. Eastern Michigan's sole victory also came at the expense of Indiana State as they pitched a 52-0 shutout against the Sycamores back on August 28th.
The last time these two teams met, the Eagles escaped Huskie Stadium with a 21-19 win after blocking a last-second Northern Illinois field goal attempt. "After last year, and taking it on the chin, hopefully our kids will have a little edge to them and will be ready to play," said NIU coach Jerry Kill.
Both teams have had their share of bumps and bruises at the quarterback position. Sophomore Kyle McMahon has taken over the QB duties for the Eagles while starter Andy Schmitt is fighting nagging injuries.
"I have watched a lot of film on them over the last 48 hours," shared Kill. "Offensively, they are very good. Their last two games, even though they lost, they had over 450 yards of offense. Their quarterback has really performed well. We're very impressed with him. They've got some skilled players that can run by you. Their offensive line is very well coached. Offensively they can move the ball. That's a concern."
Kill was especially impressed with McMahon. "He's athletic and can throw BB's. He's got a gun. I really like him."
The Huskies will again be without the services of redshirt freshman quarterback Chandler Harnish. "He will not play this week," said Kill of Harnish's sprained foot. "He's doubtful."
The good news for Northern is that senior quarterback Dan Nicholson's shoulder is on the mend. This weekend, Nicholson practiced on a Sunday for the first time this year. "My shoulder has taken awhile," said Nicholson. "It's getting better. It feels better than it has the past couple weeks. I'm really excited to get out to practice and see how it feels.
Nicholson shouldn't need to rely on relief help from DeMarcus Grady this week. "We can build a game plan around Danny and get him ready to play," Kill remarked. "We're excited about that. We feel we're in a better frame of mind than we were a week ago. That will help us offensively. I think we'll play better."
The Huskies are heading into hostile territory for the Eagles' Homecoming game. Kill certainly thinks this one will have a big game atmosphere. "It's a big game. I'm not going to apologize for that. It's a big game for them and a big game for us. If we win, it's a great thing. If it doesn't work out, we're just going to line up and keep getting better. You've got to win at home, and then you've got to steal a couple on the road. You're not going to get it given to you on the road. You're going to have to go win it. That means you can't turn it over. You've got to play like you're 10 points down to start with. We're going to have to go in there and play very, very well, which we're capable of doing."
Nicholson agreed that one area of improvement for the NIU offense is turnovers. "Turnovers is a huge thing. It's an emphasis going into every week. We had two against Indiana State. I'm sure that's going to be a huge point of emphasis for us this week."
Much has been made of the Huskies' rotation at the running back positions. Northern has utilized a balanced attack with senior Justin Anderson, freshman Me'co Brown, senior Montell Clanton, and redshirt sophomore Ricky Crider all seeing time in the backfield. Kill does not see a problem with that and made it clear that he is calling the shots. "I have been playing all of them since day one," Kill said. "I played three running backs last year and sometimes more than that. It doesn't matter [how many] as long as they are productive. We will put the best players out there that will give us a chance to win. We have done that the last three ballgames and will continue to do that. We have a lot of kids that are the same and we will play the ones that will give us the best chance to win the game. I make these decisions as the season goes. My gut feeling right now is that I can rely on all of them. Yes, if we have one guy that is really stepping up and dominating on the football field, we will play that guy on every snap. But right now, we are not seeing that happening on the field and when it does, I will let you know."
Clanton was the leading rusher for the Huskies against Indiana State with 10 carries for 61 yards and one touchdown. Clanton has perservered during his time at NIU. "He's coming off double knee surgery," Kill said. "He's a guy that's been through so much here. A lot of guys probably would've away from the game. He's stay involved in it. He's still knocking off a lot of rust because it's been a long time he since played. He's got some speed and quickness that we certainly need at that position."
EMU coach Jeff Genyk on the Huskies
"They have really committed to the running game. I'm really impressed with Montell Clanton, who's running the ball very well. Then there's Dan Nicholson's ability to manage the offense. DeMarcus Grady who can run and throw the ball is definitely a challenge."
"Defensively, they are using a similar scheme that they did last year with Coach Novak. They've always been very physical. They are very fundamentally sound. They're always a challenge. They're not going to give you much."
Redshirt freshman Nathan Palmer has now moved into a starting wide receiver position on the team's depth chart.
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