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NIU guarding against upset at hands of winless Minutemen

Huskies not taking UMass lightly

DeKALB – If Northern Illinois plays the way it should Saturday, it should have no problem beating Massachusetts.

By a lot. 

NIU is 8-1 and 5-0 in the Mid-American Conference, and UMass is winless. The Huskies are first in the Mid-American Conference in scoring offense and second in scoring defense. UMass is last in both categories.

NIU opened as a 35-point favorite, the largest point spread in college football this week. The Huskies were heavy favorites over their first two Mid-American Conference crossover opponents, Buffalo and Akron, and NIU beat them pretty easily, winning 45-3 and 37-7, respectively.

However, as the old saying goes, there’s a reason they play the games. Huskies head coach Dave Doeren mentioned NIU nearly lost to North Dakota two seasons ago. So far, the Huskies haven’t looked like they’ve taken anyone lightly. 

“I’ve been fortunate watching other teams lose to teams they shouldn’t. Obviously we’ve been in some close games and had to come back and win,” Doeren said. “I just never want to be on that side of the ball that does that.”

Any time a team makes the move up from the Football Championship Subdivision, it’s going to go through some growing pains. That’s something first-year Minutemen head coach Charley Molnar is experiencing in 2012. 

UMass is also a young team. Going by the school’s current depth chart, Molnar currently has seven freshmen in the starting lineup.

The Minutemen have played some competitive games. UMass lost to then-unbeaten Ohio by just three points on Sept. 29, and in last week’s loss to Vanderbilt, the Minutemen were down by only seven until late in the first half.

“I think they’re well-coached,” Doeren said. “You see improvement. ... It’s not like each week they’ve gotten worse.”

Against Tennessee-Martin, Akron and Buffalo, the Huskies did a good job of getting off to a fast start and not letting the opponent think they’re in the game.

Playing with the lead also makes life easier on the Huskies’ defense. 

“I think that is one big thing. We know our offense is going to put up those points, and they’re going to put them up quick, so that means teams are going to have to start passing the ball,” defensive end Sean Progar said. “It works out. We think our pass defense is one of our strengths, with our D-line getting after the quarterback and our secondary covering. 

“Our offense puts points up quickly and teams are forced to have put points up as fast as they can as well.”

UMass at NIU

When: 2:30 p.m.

Where: Huskie Stadium, DeKalb

Radio: 670 AM

Line: NIU by 35

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