The first week of #MACtion was a memorable one and was worth the wait. But it was a more successful season debut for the Central Michigan Chippewas compared to the Northern Illinois Huskies, which will face off on Wednesday night in DeKalb. Mistakes, turnovers, and poor tackling were the Huskies' downfall as they lost to Buffalo at home last week, while the Chippewas won a thrilling, back-and-forth affair with Ohio to open defense of their MAC West title.
Offense wasn't much of a problem for either team last week, with both scoring 30 points. The difference was that Northern Illinois gave up 49 to Buffalo, as the Bulls made the most of the Huskies' five turnovers and turned three of them into defensive touchdowns. Central Michigan, on the other hand, came up with the key stops needed to keep Ohio off the scoreboard in the fourth quarter.
The Chippewas will look for their first 2-0 start since 2017, while the Huskies look to avoid a 0-2 hole for the first time since '18. With just six games on the schedule this season, every win is critical, putting a little more emphasis than usual on Wednesday night's matchup.
Central Michigan at Northern Illinois
Kickoff: Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Central Michigan -7.5
When Central Michigan Has the Ball
Quarterback Daniel Richardson takes the lead for the Chippewas offense. He completed 56.1 percent of his passes against Ohio for 243 yards and a touchdown to finish with a 113.9 quarterback rating. He also ran for a score and kept this offense moving. Richardson guides this team but he doesn't do it by himself.
Running back Kobe Lewis brings the pain out of CMU's backfield. He was responsible for 112 of CMU's 184 rushing yards last week, scored two touchdowns, and added 34 receiving yards. The offensive line also did an excellent job, as they kept Richardson upright (0 sacks) and paved the way for Lewis and others. Richardson's favorite targets were Kalil Pimpleton (5 receptions, 65 yards, TD) and JaCorey Sullivan (3, 43). The Chippewas can't wait to line up against a Northern Illinois defense that got little pressure on Buffalo's Kyle Vantrease (0 sacks, 1 QB hurry), only had three tackles for a loss, and surrendered 357 total yards to the Bulls, including 5.4 yards per carry.
When Northern Illinois Has the Ball
The quarterback position is one to keep an eye on for the Huskies. Ross Bowers got the start and the majority of the snaps last week, but Rodney Thompson and Andrew Haidet also saw the field. Bowers finished with better passing numbers (17-for-28, 202 yards, TD), but he also tossed an interception and lost a fumble, both of which were returned for scores by Buffalo. Thompson and Haidet both scored rushing touchdowns, but the former also lost a fumble that was returned for a score, one of five total giveaways by Northern Illinois. Whoever is at quarterback, he needs to be sure to protect the ball and look for opportunities to get the ball to other playmakers.
The Huskies appear to be employing a running back by committee once again this season. Last week, Harrison Waylee, Erin Collins, and Rondarius Gregory accounted for 151 of the Huskies' 156 rushing yards. Waylee led the way (66 yards) on 5.1 ypa, while Collins ran one of his team-high 16 carries into the end zone. But he also had a fumble that was returned for a score (sound familiar?).
Tyrice Richie was the big target in the passing game, recording nine catches for 106 yards, but if NIU doesn't do a better job of holding onto the ball, it won't matter. Central Michigan recorded two fumble recoveries and five sacks last week against Ohio, and you know the Chippewas have watched the tape to see how the Bulls feasted on the Huskies' mistakes.
Central Michigan has won five of the last six meetings and lead the all-time series 30-24-1. Last year's meeting was a 48-10 laugher, and if the teams' season-opening showings were any indication, this one could turn into a similar rout. Northern Illinois is able to clean some things up and keep it close, but the Chippewas make it six of seven over their division rivals.
Prediction: Central Michigan 30, Northern Illinois 23
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Kalil Pimpleton photo courtesy of Central Michigan Athletics)