DeKALB – To Rod Carey, stats lie.
Northern Illinois' head coach thinks they can tell the truth as well, but in the case of Kent State, the stats don't add up for him.
The Golden Flashes record is just 2-3. However, Carey feels Kent State's mark isn't indicative of this year's team, a squad which has played at No. 10 LSU and Penn State, and has took on Bowling Green, arguably the favorite in the MAC East.
"You want to know how stats lie? Here's how stats lie. So, you look at their stats and someone told me they're averaging like 16 points (16.8 to be exact) a game and 150 or so yards rushing a game (The Flashes average 139)," Carey said. "Well, you look at last week vs. Western Michigan, I think they ran for almost 300 yards (276), they scored 32 points, and I think they were outrageous on third down (9 of 16).
"They're really good, and they've proven it. Yeah, I think [the record] is very misleading."
One reason the Golden Flashes' record could be misleading is Kent State RB/WR Dri Archer, who injured his ankle against Liberty Week 1 before returning last week. In the win over the Broncos, Archer ran for 73 yards on six carries, and caught four passes for 48 yards and a touchdown.
Carey called Archer probably the fastest player he's seen on film, and another challenge the senior brings is where he lines up. His No. 1 uniform will be in the backfield and out wide Saturday at Dix Stadium, where fans have been encouraged to wear gold as part of a "gold out."
"I think we have to be pointing him out the whole time," NIU linebacker Michael Santacaterina said. "Every time he comes out we're going to say 'No. 1, No. 1' and wherever he is lined up, whether it's in the backfield or in the slot, it's all about the scheme and how we're going to defend it."
Archer's return could mean bad news for a Huskie defense which is giving up 169.3 rushing yards per game and is ranked 78th in the nation. Kent State's other main back, Trayion Durham, is having a nice year as well, with 344 yards for a 4.0 yards per carry average. He had 154 yards last week.
NIU's defense ranks 118th in yardage (501.2 ypg) and 88th in scoring (31.3 ppg), but it's another case where Carey doesn't feel numbers are telling the story. The Huskies have done a great job forcing turnovers as opponents have turned the ball over 13 times against NIU.
"I've said to you guys from the beginning. I'm not a big numbers guy. I go off what I see and our defense has been playing opportunistically," Carey said. "Now, would we like better numbers? Yes. Other than that, I've been pleased and there are things to clean up. I think stats can give you a peek into some things, and other things they can really lie to you about."
FIVE STORYLINES TO WATCH
1. Dri Archer Archer, whom Kent State started a Heisman campaign for prior to the season, is really good and really fast. NIU head coach Rod Carey said he's probably the fastest player he's seen on film. Archer is finally healthy after injuring his ankle Week 1.
2. Turnover battle While the Huskie defense has given up its share of yards, NIU has done a good job of taking care of the ball and forcing turnovers on defense. The Huskies are + 6 in turnover margin, and their average margin of + 1.5 is sixth in the country. Kent State is -1 when it comes to turnover margin.
3. NIU wideouts Angelo Sebastiano may not play Saturday, meaning we'll see a lot of guys like Da'Ron Brown and Juwan Brescacin in addition to Tommylee Lewis. True freshman Aregeros Turner could see more reps as well.
4. Roosevelt Nix If you're going to pay attention to a player on Kent State's defense, make sure it's Nix. He's had a great career at Kent State – he already has a MAC Defensive Player of the Year Award under his belt and is looking to become a four-time all-conference pick. He could cause problems for the Huskies' offensive line.
5. Kent State's running game Archer is just one person the NIU run defense has to worry about. Trayion Durham has 344 yards this year and ran for 154 against Western Michigan last week. NIU's run defense ranks 78th nationally, giving up 169.3 yards per game.
Since the start of 2012, the Golden Flashes are 12-1 when outrushing opponents, and 1-5 when they're outgained. In last year's MAC Championship Game, NIU ran for 312 yards, while Kent State had only 70 yards on the ground.
– Steve Nitz, email@example.com