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The NI-5: What to watch as the Huskies take on Central Michigan

Northern Illinois running back Harrison Waylee tries to pull out of the grasp of Buffalo safety Cory Gross Jr. in the fourth quarter of their game Wednesday night at NIU in DeKalb.
Northern Illinois running back Harrison Waylee tries to pull out of the grasp of Buffalo safety Cory Gross Jr. in the fourth quarter of their game Wednesday night at NIU in DeKalb.

Coming off a 49-30 loss to Buffalo in a game where Northern Illinois spotted the Bulls 21 points from turnovers that were returned for scores, the Huskies open play in the Mid-American Conference West Division with a home game against Central Michigan.

The Chippewas started the season with a 30-27 win against Ohio in a game that no team led by more than seven points.

Kickoff is 7 p.m. Wednesday on ESPNU in a rematch of a game the Chippewas won, 48-10, last year in Mount Pleasant.

Here are five things to watch in the matchup.

Can the Huskies get their turnover
issue under control?

The Huskies were driving for a chance at the lead against Buffalo in the third quarter last week and then their next five drives went fumble returned for touchdown, fumble returned for touchdown, three and out, fumble, interception returned for a touchdown.

And just like that, a 21-16 game was 49-16.

“A lot of woulda, coulda, shouldas,” NIU coach Thomas Hammock said. “But I don’t question the effort, I don’t question the physicality, I don’t question the want-to of our group.”

Central Michigan, meanwhile, forced a pair of fumbles against the Bobcats.

Chippewas coach Jim McElwain pointed out the difference the turnovers made in the loss for NIU.

“Obviously that turnover bug hurt them a little bit in the last ballgame and yet when you take that out of it, [they] went toe to toe and in someway actually outplayed Buffalo,” McElwain said. “This will be a huge test for us as we go on the road.”

How will James Ester and Harrison Waylee perform in expanded roles?

Ester and Waylee each moved up the depth chart in Week 2. Waylee only had one first-half carry but finished as the team’s leading rusher with 66 yards on 13 carries.

“If we hold onto the football, you walk out of that game feeling pretty good,” Hammock said. “Obviously Harrison Waylee is a guy we need to get the ball to more, and we’re certainly going to do that.”

Waylee moved up to No. 2 on the depth chart behind Erin Collins.

Ester, meanwhile, will start opposite Weston Kramer at defensive tackle.

“You obviously see Weston Kramer, he played his butt off,” Hammock said. “But we’re going to put James Ester next to him, let those two guys battle, and the guys behind them have to play better to get on the field more.”

Kramer said Ester had a solid first game.

“That’s a great thing,” Kramer said. “The kid plays really hard, he’s very physical and does his job very well.”

What kind of pressure can the Huskies get on Daniel Richardson?

The Buffalo offensive line didn’t allow a sack to the Huskies, and the Chippewas didn’t allow the Bobcats to sack Richardson.

Kramer said the quick play preference of the Bulls kept the Huskies from getting to the quarterback. He said he sees the opportunity this week to get to Richardson.

“Last week we didn’t have many opportunities,” Kramer said. “It was just like short play-action passes that we couldn’t get home. They were very quick. This week, I saw some film, there’s some more drop-back passes. If we get the opportunity to get to the quarterback, we’ve got to take care of that.”

Richardson, a redshirt freshman who appeared in three games last year, was 23 of 41 with a touchdown and no interceptions.

“Some of the things occurred, he actually pushed himself into those pressures and those situations,” McElwain said. “With that being said I thought the way he approached this past game, and now that he has that under his belt, he has a better understanding of what he has to do. I’m hoping to see him play with more confidence in everything he’s doing.”

How are the Huskies going to respond against a CMU team that recorded five sacks last week?

Buffalo got to Bowers three times in their last game.

But Hammock saw bright spots out of his senior quarterback despite the fumble and interception returned for scores.

“I like how Bowers commanded the offense,” Hammock said. “We were able to execute. For the first game, normally you see a lot of substitution errors, things over the course of the game you didn’t see.”

Hammock used three quarterbacks in the game, with Andrew Haidet and Rodney Thompson getting game action as well. Hammock said that wasn’t because of the score, but he wants all his quarterbacks to get experience.

He also mentioned that true freshman quarterback Dustin Fletcher is close to returning as well.

How are the Huskies going to flush bad plays?

After the game Wednesday, Hammock said the team let things snowball with turnovers.

But at the presser Friday, he said he thought the team did a good job of moving on after a bad play.

“It wasn’t like we had back-to-back bad plays,” Hammock said. “I thought they flushed it. But we have to have a higher premium on ball security. That’s the thing.”

Center Brayden Patton pointed to the 19-yard run by Tyrice Richie after the fumble as moving on, however Collins fumbled on the next play and James Patterson returned it for a score.

“I thought we really did a good job of flushing the last one,” Patton said. “The next play after a turnover we came back out and ran a maybe 18-yard gain. Every single play after a negative, we flush it, and I think for the most part we did a pretty good job of that.”

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