Wednesday practice notes: Ward questionable for Saturday

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Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward didn't practice Tuesday or Wednesday.

NIU head coach Dave Doeren said Ward, who has team-highs in tackles (70) and interceptions (2), is "a little banged up", and hopes the junior can play Saturday. Doeren wouldn't say what Ward's injury is.

"We are beat up. Defensively we've played a lot of snaps this year. Jimmie's made a lot of tackles, a lot of collisions," Doeren said. "I know he wants to play Saturday, but we felt like it was best for him (to hold him out), kind of like we did with (Rashaan) Melvin a couple weeks back, to have him the way that he wants to play football.

"He knows our defense inside and out, so we had to [hold him out of practice] just to get him right."

Other notes from Wednesday's practice:

• I asked Doeren if he's made a decision on how many games running back Jamal Womble will be suspended for.

Womble was charged with driving under the influence, driving under the influence with a blood-alcohol content greater than the legal limit, and improper lane use on Nov. 12.

Doeren said Womble is still suspended indefinitely.

• Running back Leighton Settle and safety Dechane Durante practiced Wednesday. Settle didn't play in last week's win over Western Michigan, and Durante hasn't seen the field since the Ball State game Oct. 6.

Wide receiver Perez Ashford and cornerback Rashaan Melvin didn't practice. At Tuesday's news conference, Doeren sounded optimistic about Melvin's availability for Saturday. The senior corner didn't play in the Western Michigan game.

• One other player who didn't practice was Sycamore graduate Marckie Hayes. Hayes practiced Tuesday, and Doeren said he just tweaked his ankle and was sore Wednesday. Doeren expects him back for UMass.

• Last year, the Huskies were 11th in the Mid-American Conference in kickoff coverage, with a net average of 39.4 yards. This season, NIU is tied for second in the conference in kickoff coverage with a net average of 42 yards.

Kicking off from the 35-yard line helps, but Doeren said kicker Tyler Wedel has been a lot better with a year of experience, specifically mentioning his ball placement, and said the players on special teams have been making plays.

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Given a full slate of games against Big Ten teams, which team finishes with the best record?
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