Created: Saturday, September 21, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
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NIU not taking undefeated EIU lightly

By STEVE NITZ snitz@shawmedia.com
Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey shouts to his players during practice Aug. 13 at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb. (Rob Winner – rwinner@shawmedia.com)

DeKALB – There usually is a certain itinerary for a Football Championship Subdivision school when facing an Football Bowl Subdivision team that carries 22 more scholarship players.

It starts with playing on the road in a nicer stadium against players who are bigger and faster. Typically, it ends with a lopsided loss and a nice paycheck.

Eastern Illinois will get $250,000 for heading up Interstate 57 to take on Northern Illinois at 6 p.m. today at Huskie Stadium.

However, the Panthers aren’t your normal FCS school, already claiming a win over an FBS team by thumping San Diego State, 40-19, in its opener. EIU is in the top 10 in both major FCS polls, and is looking to become the third FCS (formerly I-AA) team to knock off two FBS schools in the same season.

NIU coach Rod Carey made it clear that his squad won’t be looking at its in-state opponent lightly.

“Label them whatever you want them as, I-AA or FCS, that don’t matter to me and it won’t matter to our team because when you put on the film, it’s a really good football team,” he said. “Period. End of story.”

It’s not like the FCS hasn’t had success against higher-level competition this season. In Week 1 alone, eight FCS schools earned victories against FBS competition.

EIU has done its damage with a strong offensive attack, led by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who leads the FCS with 1,281 passing yards. He threw a school-record seven touchdown passes against Illinois State last week.

He certainly will present a challenge for an NIU defense that has struggled at times this season.

After giving up an average of 448 yards of offense its first two games, the group is looking to take a positive step against the Panthers.

“Every week you’ve got something to work on from the previous week,” NIU linebacker Boomer Mays said. “It’s just taking that step forward. ... Maybe alignments, tackling. Just knowledge of the game.”

One definite advantage NIU will have is playing in front of its home crowd for the first time this season. The Huskies take a 21-game on-campus winning streak into tonight’s contest, where a sold-out crowd is expected.

“We had a real long stretch going to Idaho,” linebacker Rasheen Lemon said. “It is a relief coming back home, being back in front of our home crowd and being able to put on a show.”

Will the NIU football team play for the MAC title this year?
Yes
No
Too soon to tell