Created:Thursday, December 2, 2010 10:58 p.m.CDT

5 keys to victory for NIU

The last time Northern Illinois won the Mid-American Conference championship, it was 1983. The Huskies hope to change that today. (Provided photo)

1. Take your losses After scoring 195 points the last three weeks, Northern Illinois has grown accustomed to getting what it wants on offense. Limegrover doesn’t expect it to be so easy tonight against a slanting, penetrating RedHawks defense. But while the Huskies may lose yards on some plays, Limegrover said Miami’s aggressive defense (second in the MAC with 29 sacks) also allows opportunities for big plays. NIU may have to be more patient this week – and actually punt a couple times – but should have the chances to again light up the scoreboard.

2. Rattle the rookie Zac Dysert is one of the best passers in the Mid-American Conference but a lacerated spleen – ouch – will keep him off the field tonight and possibly a bowl game. But since inserting redshirt freshman Austin Boucher, the Redhawks haven’t missed a beat, defeating Akron and Temple to clinch the MAC East. Miami’s supporting cast – including running back Thomas Merriweather and receivers Armand Robinson and Nick Harwell – has stepped up. But if the Huskies put heat on the rookie signal caller on this big stage, they may cut off the head of the RedHawks offense. “He is young and our goal is definitely to get him rattled early,” NIU defensive tackle D.J. Pirkle said.

3. Clutch kicking NIU senior kicker Michael Cklamovski has had a rollercoaster season. He missed his first two attempts, made his next eight, went 1-for-4 against Buffalo, 4-for-6 against Central Michigan and has made two of his last five attempts and has also missed four extra points over the last four games. Luckily for “The Lawyer,” the first-year law student’s nickname, none of those misses have come to haunt NIU – which has won eight of its last nine games by more than 11 points. Championships often come down to one play, one break or one kick, which is why Huskies spent 40 minutes of their hour-long Monday practice on the kicking game.

4. Wisen up RedHawks defensive coordinator Carl “Bull” Reese and offensive coordinator Morris Watts were coaching Division I football when NIU coach Jerry Kill and coordinators Tracy Claeys and Matt Limegrover were in grade school. Together, Reese and Watts have 81 years of experience in college and pro football. The veteran coaches, who have been instrumental to Miami’s resurgence under first-time head coach Michael Haywood, have kept the NIU coaches extra busy in preparation this week. “They can make you look bad in a hurry because of what they do,” Limegrover said.

5. Bask in the limelight The NIU players seem to relish the limelight – with their only primetime loss coming to Iowa State in Week 1 – and showed no nerves in their last nationally televised game, a 65-30 throttling of Toledo aired on ESPN2. The Huskies’ routs of Ball State and Eastern Michigan were not televised, so the Huskies again will be eager to show their MAC dominance to the nation. This is the time for the NIU program, coaches, players, and fans to shine.

Will NIU football win the MAC this season?