The Northern Illinois Huskies and star senior quarterback, Jordan Lynch, travel to West Lafayette this Saturday where they face the Purdue Boilermakers (1-3, 0-1 Leaders). The Huskies are off to their first 3-0 start since 2003 (when they won their first seven games, climbed as high as #12 in the AP poll, and finished 10-2) and look to remain undefeated.
The Boilermakers have struggled early this season, but have shown they can play well against strong competition, as they did for most of their game against #22 Notre Dame. Northern is the first MAC team to be favored in a road game against a B1G team since the 2003 Miami RedHawks. And after its opening week win against the Iowa Hawkeyes, NIU could become the first MAC team to beat two B1G teams in the regular season...EVER! NIU leads the all time series against Purdue 1-0, with a 28-21 win in 2009, but the Huskies have looked far from convincing this year.
We know Lynch can score points in bunches, but last week we saw the addition of redshirt junior Cameron Stingily at running back. His 21 carries for 134 yards helped lift NIU over Eastern Illinois. The last two weeks Stingily has shown he can be a reliable option and, with Purdue's run defense ranking 86th in the country, giving up nearly 185 yards per game, he and Lynch should be able to rack up yards on the ground. Lynch should also be able to use his arm effectively against a marginal Purdue secondary that gives up more than 230 yards per game.
But as bad as Purdue's defense has been, it pails in comparison to how terrible the offense has played. Purdue ranks 121st in total offense...a mere 246 yards per game (the Huskies average 516, ranked 17th overall). The Boilermakers have no real rushing attack, gaining only 282 rushing yards all season (in comparison, NIU averages 295 rushing yards PER GAME). Akeem Hunt, their primary halfback, averages just 3.1 yards per carry. Rob Henry, the Boilermaker quarterback, hasn't fared much better through the air either, gaining just 175 passing yards per game (101st in the country) and throwing just 3 TDs and 4 interceptions. However, Purdue has played two top-15 defenses in Wisconsin and Notre Dame.
And all that being said, NIU's defense has been downright awful in the secondary. NIU is giving up over 315 passing yards per game, 120th in the country. Granted, the Eastern Illinois game last week featured a quarterback sure to be drafted next April, it still has been an adventure on defense every week for the Huskies. The one bright spot has been their pass rush. They have tallied 14 sacks in their three games this year, 5th in the nation. Sophomore Perez Ford has been great so far, having 3.5 of the Huskies sacks, with senior Joe Windsor adding 2 more. The rest of the defense has done just enough to keep NIU perfect, but have given Huskie faithful heart attacks every week, falling behind to Iowa, Idaho, and EIU (20-0 just 8 minutes into the game).
There is one other category has been haunting the Huskies this year: penalties. They are the 5th most penalized team in the NCAA, with 33 penalties in their first three games for 282 yards. They gave up 107 free yards to Idaho and last week were flagged 14 times for 119 yards. If they cut out those penalties, Purdue will lose. The Boilermakers have a good chance to keep up if the Huskies defense moves the ball for them.
Teams can move the ball against NIU pretty well...but this week it could be a crap shoot. One of the worst offenses faces a very porous defense. I expect Purdue to score this week and keep it relatively close for awhile at least. The main test is going to be can Purdue's defense contain Lynch and the offense. Cincinnati and Wisconsin showed how easily you can run through them...look for Lynch and Stingily to do the same. If NIU cuts down on penalties, the defense should be able to handle Purdue in the second half and the offense is capable of scoring quite a bit against Purdue's struggling defense.
Prediction: NIU 42 Purdue 31