Final: NIU 51, WMU 22
Northern Illinois blew out Western Michigan because it ran the football.
Really, that is behind the Huskies 51-15 win. It's not complicated. NIU (4-3, 2-1 MAC West) finished with 494 rushing yards, 393 in the second half, and 222 in the third quarter alone. Its offensive line physically and mentally dominated WMU's defensive front, which was considered one of the best the program has ever had before today.
Chandler Harnish completed 14 of 27 passes for 203 yards, zero touchdowns and an interception, but that hardly mattered today. NIU's senior quarterback racked up a career-high 229 rushing yards on 14 carries, 163 coming in the third quarter. Combined with backup Jordan Lynch, the Huskies QBs had 342 rushing yards on 24 carries.
Lost in NIU's explosive second-half running game could be its defensive performance. It shouldn't be. Against an offense some believed was the MAC's best, the Huskies defense dominated throughout. WMU (4-3, 1-2 MAC West) had 351 rushing yards a week ago against Bowling Green. NIU held it to 102 on 31 carries.
End 3rd quarter: NIU 37, WMU 15
It will take some looking through the record books to figure out when was the last time NIU had a quarter as good as its third against Western Michigan. With question, it was the best 15 minutes the Huskies have played this season.
NIU took control after halftime, outscoring WMU 24-0 in the third quarter alone and grabbing a 37-15 lead entering the fourth.
This was the opposite of NIU's opening quarter at Central Michigan two weeks ago (when it fell behind 17-0). The Huskies defense was dominant – and that's saying a lot, given some think the Broncos have the best offense in the MAC. NIU's offense also finally got clicking, thanks to the running game.
NIU had 222 rushing yards in the third quarter alone, increasing its total to 323 on 36 carries. Senior QB Chandler Harnish has 13 carries for 214 yards, a career high. WMU's defensive front is being beaten physicall by NIU's offensive line, and it's also confused by NIU's quarterback option play.
All around, a dominant quarter for NIU.
5:38 3rd quarter: NIU 23, WMU 15
NIU has the momentum. It has the ball. Now comes a critical moment in this game.
The Huskies will start its third drive of the third quarter at its 15-yard line. Their first two drives reaped 10 points, enough for a 23-15 lead against Western Michigan. A score here would offer a nice, two-possession edge. With the way NIU's defense has played, that would be a good cushion entering the fourth quarter.
Big drive coming up for NIU and WMU.
Halftime: NIU 13, WMU 15
So much for a shootout.
NIU and Western Michigan's offenses have booted the football around and made plenty of mistakes in the first half. Both defenses have played better than expected (at least better than I expected). And the Huskies trail the Broncos 15-13 at half thanks to Mathew Sims' second field goal of the day in the closing seconds, this one from 36 yards.
Both quarterbacks have done well considering the wind at Huskie Stadium. WMU's Alex Carder is 17-of-28 for 143 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. NIU's Chandler Harnish is 11 of 22 for 174 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. Harnish has also rushed the football six times for 51 yards.
The stat of the first half is NIU's ability to hold WMU to 5 of 12 on third down. The Huskies defensive line has been active all half, and its front seven has held WMU to 53 rushing yards on 18 carries.
NIU has led this game on the stat sheet, finishing the first half with 275 yards to WMU's 196. The Huskies also have 101 rushing yards on 19 carries. But two turnovers and a botched punt snap that led to a safety have made life easy for the Broncos.
NIU has a great chance to win if it cleans things up in the second half, despite the low score. If the mistakes continue, it's going to be a long day for the Huskies.
8:02 second quarter: NIU 7, Western Michigan 15
NIU's defense is making Western Michigan work for its points. Unfortunately for the Huskies, they are getting no help from their offense and special teams.
Mistakes (and wind), more than anything else, have defined this game. A botched snap on a NIU punt led to a safety. Western Michigan scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive with a 16-yard connection between Alex Carder and Cleb Ravenell.
Western Michigan certainly isn't playing well either. The Broncos continue to be plagued by penalties and dropped passes. But they've avoided the major, costly mistakes, and the Huskies haven't.
2:20 first quarter: NIU 0, Western Michigan 6
It's remarkable Northern Illinois only trails by six points right now. The Huskies have beaten themselves through the first 13 minutes.
Their first offensive possession ended with a Chandler Harnish interception inside the Broncos 10-yard line, missing out on almost sure points. After stopping the Broncos, Perez Ashford muffed the punt. Western Michigan recovered and got a short field, but NIU held the Broncos to their second field goal.
Give NIU's defense credit. It has received no help from its offense and special teams, but it somehow has kept this game from getting out of hand early. That said, Western Michigan has had plenty of mistakes of its own (penalties and dropped passes).
Neither team is playing well. Whichever side handles this intense wind best is going to win. It's that simple.
5 minutes before kickoff: NIU v. Western Michigan
NIU president John Peters and athletics director Jeff Compher announced minutes ago $7.6 million of an estimated $9.5 million has been raised for an indoor practice facility.
The facility will be 83,500 square feet and include a 120-yard artificial surface football practice field with buffer space surrounding the field on all sides. Compher said there is no time set for breaking ground, and Peters added the building phase will not begin until all $9.5 million is secured. Once the building phase begins, Compher said, he estimates it will take 12-14 months for the facility to be complete.
In other news, there is about to be a football game played. Here are some staff predictions.
Basketball on grass sounds appropriate today, doesn't it? It's windy, and Western Michigan always makes such a big deal about the wind at Huskie Stadium, that I think it gets in the Broncos' heads. NIU holds on and wins, 47-44 – John Sahly
The Broncos only two losses of the season came to Michigan and Illinois, and their performances against two of the best teams in the Big Ten were a lot closer than the Huskies' disaster at Soldier Field against Wisconsin. Jordan White is going to give the NIU secondary fits. NIU keeps it close, but I have to take Western Michigan in this one. Western Michigan 42, NIU 31. – Anthony Zilis
This is not a home-town pick. Rather, my prediction has more to do with Western Michigan. The Broncos are a good football team. But everything about today has the feel of a game Western Michigan will striggle winning. That, and considering there is only one senior quarterback playing at home today, leads to this: NIU 45, Western Michigan 42. – Ryan Wood
60 minutes before kickoff: NIU v. Western Michigan
DeKALB – Northern Illinois contention for the Mid-American Conference title is about to get a major boost. Or the Huskies are about to be effecitvely eliminated. Either way, this is a huge game.
NIU (3-3, 1-1 MAC West) and Western Michigan (4-2, 2-0 MAC West) will kick off in about an hour for the Huskies 105th homecoming. The Broncos are one of the toughest opponents NIU will play the rest of this season. Getting past this challenge will be equally difficult and rewarding.
Stay tuned to HuskieWire for full in-game and postgame coverage, including an update about where NIU is in its process with an indoor practice facility.
– Ryan Wood, firstname.lastname@example.org