High-scoring No. 21 N. Illinois faces weak UMassBy HOWARD ULMAN , Associated Press
Nov. 1, 2013 10:04 PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Low-scoring Massachusetts got a good look this week at how to get into the end zone.
It came from studying video of Saturday's opponent, high-scoring Northern Illinois.
The No. 21 Huskies are averaging 41.9 points per game. The Minutemen have scored a total of 85 all year as they continue to struggle in their second season of FBS play.
But the Minutemen (1-7, 1-3 Mid-American Conference) had their best offensive game of the season last Saturday, losing 31-30 to Western Michigan when they failed on a two-point conversion pass with 22 seconds left.
"We have certainly closed the gap on many of our MAC opponents and we're now playing them to a one-point game," Massachusetts coach Charley Molnar said. "We have what might be the best team on our schedule in front of us this week, so it has gotten a lot of attention. We tried to close the book on Saturday's game as fast as we could."
Northern Illinois (8-0, 4-0) should have little trouble improving to 9-0 for the first time since 1965.
The Minutemen "were really struggling offensively to score points and then last week they score 30 points, and really it should have been 32 and gotten the win," Huskies coach Rod Carey said. "So confidence is an amazing thing for these 18- to 22-year-olds. All of a sudden, you get it and, all of a sudden, you start playing a lot better."
Massachusetts will need much more than confidence to stop quarterback Jordan Lynch and the Northern Illinois offense. The Huskies gained a season-high 658 yards in last Saturday's 59-20 win over Eastern Michigan
Lynch is averaging 213.9 yards passing and 128.9 rushing. He's thrown for 18 touchdowns and five interceptions and has eight touchdowns rushing.
"He may be one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country," Molnar said. "He's the unequivocal leader for their football team."
Carey said he expects Cameron Stingily to return at running back for the Huskies after missing one game with turf toe. He's rushed for 726 yards and seven touchdowns in seven games.
Five things to look for when Northern Illinois faces Massachusetts:
BCS BUSTERS AGAIN?: After playing in the Orange Bowl last season, Northern Illinois is threatening to crash the BCS again in the system's final year.
The Huskies are 17th in the latest BCS rankings, right behind Fresno State. Both probably would need to remain unbeaten to have a shot, but one of them could get a bid if it finishes in the top 16 and is ahead of a champion from an automatic qualifying conference.
"We talk about it," Carey said. "There are ramifications for talking about it, being distracted and not paying attention to the small things. Or you can choose to not pay attention to it, block it out and focus on the things that have gotten us to this point. So I don't think there is a magic formula to it. If you don't address it in this day and age, I mean Twitter and Facebook, come on. So you have to talk about it."
FAST START: The Minutemen got a big boost last Saturday when Khary Bailey-Smith returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.
"It really got the crowd in the game," Molnar said.
Bailey-Smith also had two interceptions in Massachusetts only win, 17-10 over Miami (Ohio).
IMPROVING DEFENSE: The Huskies' defense is finally showing improvement. They've allowed 25.8 points per game, but have given up a total of just 57 in their last three.
"I feel like we're steadily progressing and building on each week," said linebacker Boomer Mays, who had five tackles last Saturday, including two for losses.
DOING IT ALL: Lynch accounted for six touchdowns in last week's win over Eastern Michigan — four passing, one rushing and another receiving. His 17-yard scoring catch on a pass from Tommylee Lewis was the first touchdown reception of his career.
LIMPING ALONG: Injuries are expected to sideline two key Massachusetts players, tight end Rob Blanchflower and quarterback A.J. Doyle. The Minutemen have just 10 offensive touchdowns this year and Blanchflower has two of them. Mike Wegzyn, who lost his job earlier in the season, is expected to start in place of Doyle.
AP sports writer Andrew Seligman in Chicago contributed to this report.