Created:Monday, November 8, 2010 10:42 p.m.CDT

5 keys to victory for NIU


1. Protect the ball Toledo is tied for second in the nation with 26 takeaways, including a BCS-leading 16 interceptions. But NIU has turned the ball over a MAC-low 11 times. Chandler Harnish (four interceptions this season) has three interceptions in the past three games. He and the Huskies ball carriers need to hold onto the ball against an opportunistic Rockets defense.

2. Capture the flags NIU is the least penalized team in the MAC and the fifth-least penalized team in the country, but the Huskies were a little sloppy against Western Michigan with eight penalties costing them 72 yards. Meanwhile, Toledo leads the MAC with 72 penalties for 580 yards. In front of the home crowd – encouraged to wear black for today’s “Black Out” – the Huskies have the opportunity to return to their crisp, flag-free ways and let the fans force the Rockets into mistakes.
3. Page-ing the NIU secondary
NIU had to tip its cap to Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder for most of his 360-yard performance last week, but the Huskies’ secondary missed several tackles to give the Broncos extra yards after the catch, including Jordan White’s 29-yard first quarter touchdown. At 5-foot-10, 180 pounds but quick as a jackrabbit, Toledo sophomore receiver Eric Page (66 catches, 776 yards) is even slippier than WMU’s receivers. The Huskies must rally to the ball and corral the Rockets receivers before they have a chance to put on the burners.

4. Continue redzone dominance The NIU offense leads the MAC with 46 trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, 10 higher than WMU, and the Huskies’ defense has allowed a league-low 22 redzone trips – quite a recipe for success on the scoreboard. NIU defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said the Huskies rarely practice redzone defense after training camp because they rarely play inside the 20-yard line and because most teams offenses don’t change in the redzone. Toledo has scored touchdowns on 19 of its 30 redzone appearances.

5. Senior sendoff Twenty-one NIU seniors will be playing their final game at Huskie Stadium tonight and it is the most important game of their careers because a win ultimately could extend their careers by a game – the MAC Championship game on Dec. 3. This group has seen NIU decline (a 2-10 season in 2007) only to rise up again (back-to-back bowl appearances in 2008 and 2009). A win tonight would be another big step for the seniors, NIU coach Jerry Kill and the Huskies program.

Will NIU football win the MAC this season?