1. Avoid mistakes
Ball State isn’t bowl-eligible because of talent. Largely, the reason is because it limits mistakes and takes advantage of its opponents errors. Northern Illinois can overwhelm the Cardinals with talent and skill, but still find itself in a competitive fourth quarter if it doesn’t play clean.
2. Pressure Wenning
Cardinals quarterback Keith Wenning may be the most improved quarterback in the Mid-American Conference, but the sophomore still is young.
The biggest difference from last season is Wenning’s decision making. It helps playing behind an offense line that has only allowed nine sacks in 10 games, tied for second in the Mid-American Conference behind NIU (five).
If the NIU defense pressures Wenning, perhaps it can force the Cardinals into mistakes.
3. Third-down defense
When NIU wins, its defense gets off the field, giving the ball back to its explosive offense. When it loses, opponents have found success on third down.
4. Finish the game
With the talent gap, NIU could find itself with a comfortable, early lead – as has happened at other times this season. But, at times this season, the Huskies have let opponents back into the game, or failed to close games.
Ball State has the toughness to take advantage if NIU’s focus slips in the fourth quarter.
5. Continue momentum
Last week, NIU played perhaps its most complete game of the season. Offense, defense, even special teams – all were clicking.
If the Huskies have captured that secret, they need to use it again. They’re now in the season’s final stretch, when it’s important to be playing their best.