Ground and pound
The top two rushing attacks throw down in crucial MAC contest
The Bulls will have to contain Northern Illinois dual-threat quarterback Jordan Lynch if they want to have a shot to upset the defending Mid-American Conference champions. Courtesy of Scott Walstrom/ NIU Media Services
For the second straight week, the Bulls (1-4, 0-2 Mid-American Conference) were unable to get over the hump, losing by a single possession to Ohio (6-0, 2-0 MAC), 38-31. Turnovers and special teams have been Buffalo's Achilles heel, as the Bobcats were able to score 14 points off of the Bulls' four turnovers.
It spoiled a tremendous effort on the ground for Buffalo. With junior running back Branden Oliver out and fellow junior Brandon Murie unable to play, freshman Devin Campbell stepped right in and shined brightest, rushing for 160 yards in his first career start. Junior quarterback Alex Zordich added to the rushing totals by adding 110 yards - the first quarterback in the Bulls' Division-1 era to rush for the century mark in a game. With his next yard, he will tie UB's single-season rushing record for a quarterback, which is Chazz Anderson's 309 last year.
At 225 rushing yards a game, this season has been validation for a Bulls' offensive line that doesn't get all the headlines due to the rushing prowess of Oliver.
"It feels great to be a part of something big like this," said senior right tackle Gokhan Ozkhan. "We want the team to lean on us. We wouldn't want it any other way. No matter who's behind us holding the ball, we just want to protect them and get the team going offensively."
It doesn't get easier for Buffalo as it ends a treacherous three-game road stretch as the Bulls visit the defending MAC champions. Northern Illinois (5-1, 2-0 MAC) has won five in a row after dropping its first game.
The Huskies feature the only rushing attack in the MAC that is better than the Bulls' - their 245 rushing yards per game ranks11th best in the nation. Northern Illinois' 20 rushing touchdowns is by far the best mark in the MAC and sixth in the FBS.
Player to watch:
Quarterback Jordan Lynch is having a sensational season. He is a duel threat monster and ranks eighth in the nation in rushing average with 131.5 yards. Michigan's Denard Robinson is the only other quarterback with a higher average per game than Lynch.
He has also shown the ability to consistently pass the pigskin. He has a three-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio, and his passing efficiency of 142.4 is 40th in the nation.
To head coach Jeff Quinn, the game plan is simple.
"We have to stop their quarterback," Quinn said. "Jordan Lynch is an outstanding football player. Look at what he's been able to do. He's primarily their offense; he's the leading rusher. He's the leading thrower. He's the guy we have to stop."
In the past few weeks, after the loss to Kent State, the Bulls have held opposing offensive stars to pedestrian numbers. Against UConn (3-3, 0-1 Big East), impact player Nick Williams was held in check in the return game, had a rush for a loss and was only able to manage 57 yards receiving. Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton was held to under 200 yards passing, and threw his first interception of the season. In that same game, running back Beau Blankenship had his first sub 100-yard game of the season - an 86-yard effort on 25 carries.
Matchup to watch:The battle in the trenches
The battle on both lines will be ferocious with the top two rushing attacks in the MAC in the same stadium - as both offensive lines are tremendous in the run blocking game. The defensive line that does the best job of containing the run game, especially the duel threat quarterbacks of Lynch and Zordich, will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game.
He said it:
"As an offensive lineman, I'm proud of my position, and the guys that I'm playing with. We're a tight-knit group, and we're always hanging out. Any restaurant that's open be careful, because we'll come in as a group and just tear it all down."
- Ozkhan on the camaraderie between him and his offensive linemates, while also putting restaurants in the Buffalo area on notice.
Number to watch: 18
That is the impressive streak by Northern Illinois at Huskie Stadium, which has cooked up the best home field advantages in the MAC. The Huskies have not lost a home game since losing to Idaho in 2009 by a 34-31 score. That mark is the third best in the nation, behind only Southeastern Conference powerhouse LSU (5-1, 1-1 SEC) with 21 and Big Ten's Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) with 20.
They also have won 13 straight MAC home games; the last conference opponent to defeat the Huskies was Central Michigan back in 2008.
The Bulls have improved each game, but they face arguably the toughest game in the season aside from Georgia. The Huskies are almost a mirror image of the Bulls, with a run-based quarterback and a stingy defense. The crucial difference is the home field advantage. It's homecoming weekend in Dekalb, Ill., and after that emotional comeback win against Ball State (3-3, 1-2 MAC), the Huskies have the possibility of making early mistakes with this big weekend ahead of them.
If the Bulls take advantage of that, use the pass attack to stake claim to an early lead over Northern Illinois and avoid the big mistakes that have hampered them for the last few games, the seeds are set for a massive MAC upset.
Northern Illinois has shown a propensity to come back from large deficits and will do so again Saturday. The home streak continues to an impressive 19 games.
Northern Illinois: 27
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