DeKALB - The fourth week of the football season brought a dash of some good and bad news for Northern Illinois. The Huskies might have lost second-string tailback Montell Clanton (torn meniscus) for the season, and sophomore middle linebacker Tim McCarthy will miss today's game against Indiana State with a shoulder injury. The loss of McCarthy - tied for 14th nationally with 32 tackles - is a big blow for the Huskies. Keenan Blalark moves over to the middle, while Cory Hanson and David Bryant will fill the other two linebacker spots. The defense does get a lift by the return of sophomore defensive end/tackle Craig Rusch, who sat out the first three games with an infection in his foot. Defensive tackle Zack Holycross is also expected to play today after sitting out last week's win over Buffalo “Craig isn't always pretty, but he makes plays,” said NIU coach Joe Novak. “You need playmakers on defense. Right now we don't have as many as we'd like to have. Craig Rusch is a proven playmaker. We will need him with McCarthy out.” The loss of Clanton might force Novak to give Garrett Wolfe some extra carries. Clanton shined in last week's victory with a 58-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Justin Anderson slides into the backup role. The extra attempts could lead to a record performance for Wolfe against the Sycamore. Wolfe enters today's game as the nation's leader in rushing (210.0) and all-purpose yardage (248). “If people like football, they better get out here because Garrett is truly one of the best,” Novak said. “He's truly one of the best football players we've ever had at Northern Illinois.” The Huskies (1-2, 1-1 in the MAC West) could use a blowout victory to gain some confidence after three subpar performances. Indiana State might be the right tonic to cure some of NIU's woes. The Sycamores have the longest losing streak in the country at 20 games. Indiana State (0-3) doesn't have a roster filled with Division I-A transfers, such as Western Illinois. But the Sycamores do have plenty of offensive firepower, scoring 35 points at Purdue and 40 points against Murray State. Novak said the Huskies must build some momentum prior to NIU's three-game roadtrip. “We've got three straight tough road games,” Novak said. “Right now everybody scares me. We can't afford to stumble and need to get things done. This is a real good offensive team. If we slop around, it could be a long day.” Wide receiver Sam Logan is the key cog in Indiana State's offense. Logan, the all-time ISU leader in receptions and receiving yardages, is one catch shy of taking over the fifth spot in all-time receptions in the Gateway Conference. The Sycamores rank fourth in I-AA in total offense (448.6) and eighth in passing (258.7). Tailback Tony West rushed for 217 yards and scored three touchdowns last week. “Indiana State has nothing to lose,” Novak said. “We're expecting their best effort.”
Four keys to Saturday's game (If the Huskies need more than four keys to win today, it could be a long season). 1 - Establish dominance early. Division I-AA teams have meant trouble to the Huskies in the Joe Novak era. The Sycamore can put points on the board. Letting ISU get confidence with an early score or strong defensive effort must be avoided. 2 - Force turnovers. It will be hard for Indiana State to mount a challenge if they commit costly turnovers. 3 - Be aggressive. The Huskies need to show some bark on defense and attack the Sycamores. 4 - Spread the wealth. This should be the ideal game to let some of the inexperienced players on the offense get some confidence, which will help the Huskies down the road. Bobby Narang can be reached at email@example.com.