1. Handle the distractions
Northern Illinois is ending its stretch of four of five games on the road. This trip will be a little different in that it’s the Huskies’ first and only flight during the regular season. Saturday also is Homecoming for the Zips and another night game. Add a significant conference crossover looming with Temple at home next week, and the Huskies have plenty of distractions that could affect their play. Though, NIU coaches have done a great job thus far this season in keeping their team focused on the task at hand.
2. Pressure the QB
Akron has allowed 13 sacks through four games. The Huskies’ defensive line was reliable through the non-conference schedule, accumulating five sacks, but this could be their first chance to show that they are capable of dominating MAC offensive lines. Defensive ends Sean Progar, Jake Coffman, Darnell Bolding, Stephen O’Neal and Joe Windsor should give Zips sophomore quarterback Patrick Nicely headaches.
3. Force turnovers
During most games this season, NIU’s defense has been in the bend-but-don’t-break mode, allowing 399 yards of offense per game. One of the reasons is a lack of takeaways. The Huskies have two fumble recoveries and four interceptions, two of which came on last-second heaves by opponents. A timely takeaway could change this from a competitive game to a comfortable NIU win.
4. Keep ’em guessing
After a 223-yard performance against Minnesota, Chad Spann should be the focus of Akron’s gameplan. NIU again should try to give its starting tailback at least 20 touches against the Zips, but his performance against the Gophers should make him a great decoy, as well, opening up opportunities for play-action passes and quarterback keepers for Chandler Harnish.
5. Dominate from the start
NIU is a much better overall team than Akron, which is still adjusting to a new coaching staff and system. The Huskies are confident following a victory at Minnesota and a close loss at Illinois. They’ve played as well as a lower-level Big Ten team the past two weeks and should feel like one heading into Akron. The Huskies know that to live up to the preseason expectations they need this win. From the first snap, NIU needs to show it was worthy of such hype.