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UMass football team looking to end losing streak against Northern Illinois

Massachusetts quarterback Mike Wegzyn looks to pass in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Bowling Green in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Oct. 20, 1021. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Massachusetts quarterback Mike Wegzyn looks to pass in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Bowling Green in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Oct. 20, 1021. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) Purchase photo reprints »

AMHERST — If the University of Massachusetts football team is going to snap its season-long losing streak, it is going to have to end several formidable Northern Illinois streaks at the same time.

The Huskies (8-1, 5-0 MAC), who are the defending Mid-American Conference champions, haven’t lost since falling to Iowa 18-17 in their season opener at Soldier Field in Chicago. They’ve won 13 consecutive conference games and 19 straight home games entering Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. in DeKalb, Ill.

NIU leads the MAC in scoring offense at 38.1 points per game and is the league’s top rushing offense at 241.9 yards per game, led by junior quarterback Jordan Lynch.

The Minutemen (0-8, 0-4) have faced several dual-threat quarterbacks this season, including Michigan’s Denard Robinson, but Lynch might be the toughest they’ve encountered. While the Wolverines were trying to limit Robinson’s rushing attempts, NIU has put no such restrictions on Lynch, who leads the MAC with 1,185 rushing yards (131.7 per game).

“When you make the quarterback the direct ball carrier and everybody else is a ball carrier for him, it’s tough,” UMass defensive coordinator Phil Elmassian said. “When you couple that with talent, it’s every defensive coordinator’s nightmare.”

But even if the Minutemen can contain his running, Lynch is among the conference’s top passers as well. He leads the MAC in passing efficiency at 152.2. He’s completed 147-of-239 attempts for 1,185 yards, 17 touchdowns and three interceptions.

“This guy is another great athlete at quarterback,” UMass senior linebacker Perry McIntyre said. “We’re up for a challenge this week.”

UMass coach Charley Molnar said Lynch reminds him of another MAC quarterback.

“He’s similar to (Ohio QB) Tyler Tettleton,” Molnar said. “He’s just as good if not better than him and Tyler is pretty darn good. (Lynch) is a dynamic runner, and fast and a very good thrower.”

The Minutemen did a good job of containing Tettleton in their near upset of Ohio, a performance they’ll have to repeat Saturday.

“That was an overall good effort by the defense,” Molnar said. “We’re banking on the same thing happening Saturday afternoon. Both of those guys are extremely good dual-threat quarterbacks. It’s rare to find guys that can do both as well.”

The UMass defense has been strong in the first half each of the last two weeks before struggling in the second half.

“I think the defense has found its stride. They have the right guys in the right places,” Molnar said. “The young guys on defense have matured quickly and I think we’ve found some real gems with some of the young guys. In the second half our defense has been suffering because of our offense. We’re a little bit worn down because they’ve been out there so long. The offense hasn’t been able to keep the wind in the defense’s sails. I’m banking on not saying that next weekend.”

Molnar said scoring in the first half, which UMass did just once in October, would go a long way.

“If we can get some first-half points and sustain some first-half drives, it’ll bode well for the second half,” he said.

UMASS HALL OF FAME — Two former football players will be part of the UMass Athletic Hall of Fame’s induction class that will be enshrined on Jan. 26.

Khari Mitchell-Samuel, who went by just Khari Samuel when he was an All-American linebacker on the 1998 Division I-AA championship team, will be joined by Phil Vandersea, who starred as a fullback and punter in the early 1960s. Both players went on to NFL careers. Vandersea was part of the 1966 Green Bay Packers, who won the first Super Bowl. Samuel was drafted by the Bears and played briefly.

They’ll be joined by Tim Soudan, an All-American men’s lacrosse player who twice represented Team USA in the World Championships, and is currently the U.S. National Indoor Team coach; two-time women’s lacrosse All-American Cari Nickerson Lovejoy; and women’s basketball standout Octavia Thomas, who helped lead UMass to its first NCAA tournament in 1996.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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