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Behind Enemy Lines: Northern Illinois football beat writer Kaleb Carter discusses CMU game


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Northern Illinois running back Tre Harbison carries the ball against Eastern Michigan on Sept. 29, 2018, at Rynearson Stadium in Ypsilanti, Michigan. (Photo: NIU Athletics)

Central Michigan Life's Evan Petzold spoke with Northern Illinois beat writer Kaleb Carter from the Daily Chronicle to preview Central Michigan's noon Nov. 2 game against the Huskies at Kelly/Shorts Stadium. 

Northern Illinois is 3-5 this season and 2-2 in the Mid-American Conference, defeating Ohio (39-36) and Akron (49-0) and losing to Ball State (27-20) and Miami (27-24).

In 2018, the Huskies finished 8-6 overall and 6-2 in the MAC. Northern Illinois took down the Chippewas, 24-16, on Sept. 15 at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, Illinois.

Carter discussed Northern Illinois' quarterback situation, running back Tre Harbison, strengths, weaknesses and much more on both sides of the ball in this exclusive Q&A.

What is there to know about Northern Illinois entering this week's game?

Kaleb Carter: The Huskies are under the leadership of first-year coach Thomas Hammock, an alum who played running back for the team, and one of the 10 youngest coaches in the FBS. The Huskies struggled to find an offensive identity early in the season, but have firmly began to lean on the running game as Tre Harbison has found his groove and the offensive line play has been better. 

This is also a team extremely banged up by injuries. The three linebackers who were pencilled in to start before the season began are all not playing, with both Antonio Jones-Davis and Kyle Pugh confirmed out for the season.

What makes the run game special? Is that the strength of the offense? Why or why not?

Special isn't the word I'd use. Reliable is what the Huskies are trending toward with the run game. Tre Harbison is a high quality back who runs North-South with purpose, and the Huskie OL has been better as I mentioned. Jordan Nettles is a nice change-of-pace back, and the Huskies have the use of Marcus Childers in the run game to give them an extra threat. Childers creates one more thing defenses have to prepare for. 

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Huskies?

Strengths: 

- Tight ends are great blockers and pass catchers.

- Tre Harbison is a strong back who is becoming more reliable in the new offense. 

- Tons of experience at the safety spots, with both starters being seniors who help make a lot of plays in run support. They're also big in the fact that NIU is second in the MAC in passing efficiency defense. 

- Huskies are great at slowing down teams on early down runs, creating difficult third down chances for opposing offenses. 

Weakness:

- Albeit improved, the Huskies are playing two players at linebacker who were (one still is) walk-ons, and a converted safety/linebacker hybrid at the other OLB spot in Marshé Terry. 

- Huskies are susceptible to giving up run plays in big chunks. 

- Huskies don't turn over opponents much, just eight turnovers created this season.

How has the quarterback situation played out throughout 2019? 

Ross Bowers earned the job out of camp and has had a solid hold on the job. He sustained a concussion in the second quarter of NIU's loss to Miami, and Marcus Childers came in. Childers started last week and threw the ball just nine times. 

Hammock didn't name a starter this week, but said, "we expect to have him (Bowers) ready this week.”

Bowers tosses a better ball and has a great grasp of the offense. Cole Tucker, Mitchell Brinkman and Daniel Crawford will always be threats to catch the ball with Bowers on the field. NIU is more of a dual threat and less predictable with Bowers on the field. 

Childers has great winning experience, having led NIU to the MAC title game last year, having had the best game of his life in the win. Childers also led NIU to its highest point total of the season in last week's win over winless Akron. His legs are his greatest asset and appears to throw better after an offseason of intensive work. As a dual-threat QB, the Huskies alter the offense to create rollout looks and run-pass options for him. 

You'll almost certainly see both quarterbacks this week. 

If there's an underrated aspect of Northern Illinois, what would it be?

NIU's defensive tackles don't receive a lot of attention, but it also feels like it's sort of known how good the Huskies' defensive line is at times. Jack Heflin is more of a playmaker than most would expect a DT to be. 

If Central Michigan wants to pull off a win, how are the Chippewas going to beat Northern Illinois?

If CMU runs the ball well on early downs, it'll be extremely difficult for the Huskies to dial up their different blitz looks and come after Dormady. If the Chippewas are consistently in second-and-2 and second-and-3 and picking up repeated 6,7,8 yard runs from Lewis and Ward, that'll put them in the best position to win. 

Score prediction?

Northern Illinois 24, Central Michigan 21

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