Millikin University at North Central College
6 p.m. Saturday at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium
Coaches: Patrick Etherton, Millikin (10-14, 3rd season); John Thorne, North Central (101-27, 12th season).
Last year: NCC beat Millikin, 42-22. Millikin leads the all-time series 36-28-1, but NCC has won nine of the 11 games against the Big Blue since Thorne arrived.
Big Blue preview: Millikin’s 1-3 start to the season can be pinned on the defense. So far, Millikin is worst in the CCIW, allowing 305 rushing yards per game. They are 7th against the pass and are dead last in total defense, allowing a whopping 533.5 yards per game. Every opponent they have played this season has scored at least 35 points and they are allowing an average of 43.2 points per game. Illinois Wesleyan’s Devonte Jones ran wild on the Big Blue last week, rushing for 226 yards and three touchdowns in the 35-21 win to win CCIW Offensive Player of the Week honors. On the bright side, bruising running back Sean Dunning is the leading rusher in the CCIW thus far, averaging 127.8 yards per carry for an offense that has been able to move the ball well. Quarterback Nick Pippin is averaging 201 yards per game passing.
Cardinals preview: NCC waited out the rain and opened conference play with a 31-14 win over Elmhurst Saturday, dominating the second half after it was tied at 14-14 before the 90-minute weather delay. The positive was the fact that the running game finally got going. The Cardinals ran for 211 yards as a team, 98 coming from Ryan Kent. Kent also had two runs that totaled 137 yards called back due to penalties. Given Millikin’s struggles against the run, the running game could have another big total Saturday. There are injury problems on the offensive line, however. Star tackle Jace Werkheiser went down against Elmhurst and could be lost for several weeks. Center John Cannova may also be lost for a significant time. The Cardinals are at the top of several statistical categories in the CCIW. Quarterback Spencer Stanek leads in passing yardage (1,173) and total offense (1,345). Peter Sorenson leads the CCIW with 34 catches for 475 yards. Nick Slezak leads with his 44 tackles and Shane Dierking’s four interceptions are also best in the CCIW.
What Thorne said: “They’re playing an awful lot of young guys, especially on defense. They’ve given up a lot of rushing yards. I think we’ll be able to move the ball a lot. But they move the ball against most everybody. We’re looking forward to a pretty good battle.”
Next week: Millikin hosts Augustana while North Central travels to North Park.