Temple, Northern Illinois ready to run

You can probably guess what is on the agenda for Northern Illinois and Temple when they play Saturday.

Run, run and run.

The favorites to meet in the MAC title game bring their high-powered rushing attack into the biggest league matchup of the young season. You can bet all eyes will be on both backfields.

“We’ve been known to be a running team and Temple has turned into a big running team so I think it’s going to be a pretty big storyline,” Huskies running back Chad Spann said. “It’s going to be something both teams are going to focus on stopping.”

The teams have a combined four players on the MAC individual rushing list for the season. Spann leads the league with 108.4 yards a game. Temple running back Bernard Pierce is second with an 85.8-yard average. His backup, Matt Brown, is fourth. And Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish ranks seventh.

It was Brown who made headlines last week for his performance against Army in place of Pierce, who missed the game with an ankle injury. Brown had a career-high 226 yards and four touchdowns in the victory. Whether Pierce will be able to play against Northern Illinois (3-2, 1-0 MAC) remains to be seen.

Temple (4-1, 1-0 MAC) clearly has a proven back if its top player is out. Brown was not made available to comment for this article, but he told The Temple News after the game, “I knew I had a big hole to fill, so I tried to do that to the best of my abilities. I think I played well, but we have to repeat. It can’t be a one-hit wonder.”

Owls coach Al Golden has been high on Brown since fall camp, especially after he emerged while Pierce missed some time with a head injury. Golden has seen a changed attitude in Brown.

A year ago, Brown was sent down to the scout team because he did not understand the importance of practice or eliminating distractions. Consider that a lesson learned. Brown is now a player his teammates look up to and respect.

“I’ve seen a lot of kids in his situation who would yield the position to someone of Bernard’s talent level and he hasn’t done that,” Golden said. “He’s competed every day, made tough plays with the ball. When he didn’t have the ball, he has blocked well. The way he’s practiced, the way he’s preparing, the team’s rallying around him because of his competitiveness.”

Spann has a 200-yard rushing day of his own, going for 223 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Minnesota. He had to sit out spring practice while recovering from surgery for a torn labrum, but he took that time to get stronger. He added bulk to his legs, and feels a major difference in the fourth quarter now, allowing him to shed tackles more freely than in the past.

He and Harnish have Northern Illinois ranked No. 12 in the country in rushing offense, averaging 241.6 yards a game. Even more impressive considering the offensive line has three new starters.

“I think I’m playing at a pretty good level,” Spann said. “Compared to last year, I’ve gotten off to a better start. I just want to continue it.”