Northern Illinois head coach Jerry Kill looks up at the clock during the closing moments against Minnesota last Saturday. Northern Illinois won 34-23.
Northern Illinois (2-2) at Akron (0-4)
When: 5 p.m. Saturday at InfoCision Stadium, Akron, OH
Pay Net: www.mac-sports.com; Radio: WYLL 1160-AM
Series: NIU leads 6-5
Coaches: Jerry Kill (15-15, third year at NIU; 119-72 in 17th year overall); Rob Ianello (0-4, first year at Akron)
NIU players to watch: Senior tailback Chad Spann finally hit his stride with 223 yards and 2 TDs at Minnesota last week. He leads the MAC in rushing (114.5 ypg) and needs just 14 yards to crack the 2,000 barrier for his career. QB Chandler Harnish has thrown just 7 interceptions in 290 attempts dating back to the start of the 2009 season. The Huskies secondary won't have S Tracy Wilson (groin) for the second week in a row, but LB Pat Schiller (Geneva) has been cleared to play for the first time. He tore his ACL in late April, so he returned in a hurry.
Akron players to watch: Sophomore QB Patrick Nicely has completed just 45 of 102 passes for 508 yards. RBs Nate Burney (241 yards) and Alex Allen (238 yards, 3 TDs) split carries equally. Senior WR Patrick LaFrance started fast with 14 catches in his first 2 games, but managed just 3 in the last 2 games. Both of last week's catches at Indiana, however, went for touchdowns.
The skinny: The Huskies and Zips both took the hard road to get to this MAC opener. While NIU looked iffy at Iowa State, played Illinois tough and received a spiffy payoff with last week's win at Minnesota, Akron lost by a combined 111-33 to Syracuse, Kentucky and Indiana. The Zips are rebuilding under former Notre Dame assistant Ianello, who hired ex-Illinois co-defensive coordinator Curt Mallory to take over the defense. Considering Akron's defense ranks among the nation's bottom 15 teams in pass-efficiency rating, total yards allowed and points allowed, it's not a quick-fix project. If NIU prevails in its fourth road game of the season, it then has three big games (Temple, Buffalo and Central Michigan) at home.
He said it: Jerry Kill on Chad Spann: "I think the big thing with Chad but I noticed from a year ago, (after) missing spring ball and spending time with (strength coach Eric) Klein), he's breaking a lot more tackles than he did a year ago and finishing more runs. I think that's due to strength and the time he spent this summer."