There is no question that running back Chad Spann has meant a lot to Northern Illinois this season, but over the past month Spann has stepped up his game considerably.
Spann, who was named the Mid-American Conference West Offensive Player of the Week on Monday, has rushed for 441 yards and seven touchdowns in the past four games, and that's including a six-carry, 28-yard performance at Toledo, the only loss for the Huskies in that span.
During Monday's MAC coaches teleconference, NIU coach Jerry Kill was asked about Spann's value to the team this season as the Huskies prepare to play Eastern Michigan at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Huskie Stadium.
"He's played very well. I don't think there's any question about that," Kill said. "I think each week he's gaining more confidence. I think the biggest thing is he's breaking some tackles and getting yards after contact. Any time you get a back that can get some yards after contact, that's a good thing."
Conversely, Me'co Brown had a combined 8 rushing yards against Miami (Ohio) and Akron. Although Brown already has eclipsed his rushing total from his freshman season and played outstanding early in his sophomore year, the past two weeks have been his worst two statistically while Spann has garnered more carries.
"Me'co had some great games early and then Chad's had some good games," Kill said. "It just kind of works out, whoever is in the rhythm and whoever has played well that particular day."
Eastern Michigan coach Ron English has taken notice of Spann and Brown, as well.
"I like their backs," he said. "They like to run the ball. They run the power running game and they do a great job of that. It's going to be a lot of fun to play those guys because they play power football."
One more award: Kicker/punter Mike Salerno was named the MAC West Special Teams Player of the Week. Salerno was 2 of 3 on field goals against Akron, connecting from 22 and 37 yards and having one from 37 blocked. Salerno also punted three times for a 52.7 yards a punt average, including a career-long 61-yard punt and two punts inside the Akron 20-yard line.
This close: Toledo was inches away from tying its game against Miami (Ohio) on Saturday but officials ruled that Danny Noble fumbled the ball near the goal line and the ball hit the pylon, resulting in a touchback. The Rockets went on to lose, 31-24, while the RedHawks enjoyed their first victory of the season.
"What was said to me was we caught the football and as Danny Noble was being tackled, the ball was stripped out or became loose," Toledo coach Tim Beckman said. "Ultimately, we've got to keep our hands on the football and secure it and make sure it doesn't come out."
Looking for an answer: Central Michigan stepped out of conference play and hung with Boston College for a half before losing, 31-10.
CMU coach Butch Jones said giving up an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive at the end of the second quarter was critical to the loss, but the Chippewas also made some uncharacteristic plays.
"Then we had some dropped passes, which we haven't done all year, which was disappointing," Jones said.
Return to the lineup: Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit said standout linebacker Austin Pritchard will return from injury this week against Michigan State. The Broncos (4-5, 3-3 MAC West) can only afford one more loss in trying to keep their hopes for a bowl alive.
"We're just going to have to keep on teaching," Cubit said. "That's the simple fact of the matter. We're getting beat by little things here and there."