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2016 Week 3 Preview: San Diego State vs NIU Huskies

Can the Huskies avoid their first 0-3 start since 2007?

California v San Diego State Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Well the Northern Illinois Huskies will certainly have their work cut out for them this weekend when they take on the San Diego State Aztecs. The Huskies will play the Aztecs for the first time in 16,422 days this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (2:30 CST)

This will be the fifth game between the two schools and the first meeting since 1971. The Aztecs have won all four previous matchups by an average of 28 points...but all games took place between 1967 and 1971, two of which were before NIU became a FBS team.

For the Huskies, it will be their first home game of the season. And it comes right after a huge blowout loss to the South Florida Bulls in which NIU lost more than just the game...they also lost senior quarterback Drew Hare with a knee and ankle injury.

Hare will not be available for this game and, according to Head Coach Rod Carey in his weekly press conference, “Drew will be out for an extended period of time; probably the majority of the season at this point...we want to leave it open for his return, but certainly that's not a guarantee.“

Instead the Huskies will turn to backup Ryan Graham, who filled in last game, as well as last year, for the injured Hare. In his career Graham is 64-117 (54.7%), has passed for 756 yards and seven touchdowns while throwing three picks.

Meanwhile the Aztecs come into this game rolling; winning 12 straight, including lasts weeks 45-40 win against the Cal Golden Bears. The SDSU offense is averaging 38 points per game and is mostly powered by just three players.

First and foremost, the Aztecs have a ferocious rushing attack. Donnel Pumphrey, their senior runningback, has already gone for 379 yards and four scores early on...most against Cal. Just a week ago he tore through the Golden Bear defense for 281 yards and three TDs on 29 carries...that’s an average of 9.7 yards per rush! For the season, however, his average is still an amazing 7.6 yards per carry.

When they aren’t running the football, SDSU has Christian Chapman throwing the ball pretty well. The 6’1 sophomore quarterback has completed 62.5% of his passes for 412 yards and three TDs to just one interception.

And if you thought Pumphrey just runs the ball, you’d be wrong. He’s also second on the team in receptions (8) and third in receiving yards (70)...so stopping him is the biggest concern for the Huskie defense. But a pair of 6’1 receivers will also give the NIU secondary some problems. Mikah Holder and Eric Judge have combined for 15 catches, 276 yards, and two scores. They are the only two receivers that have more than two receptions.

Pumphrey, Holder, and Judge account for 725 of the 924 yards SDSU has this season. That’s 78.4% of their total yards!

The Huskies defense will need to load the box in order to stop the rushing attack, which could lead to match-up problems on the corners for the NIU secondary. And, unfortunately, Chapman and SDSU don’t make too many mistakes in the air; throwing just one pick since September 13th, 2015...and that was in last week’s game.

On defense, the Aztecs are led by senior linebacker Calvin Munson. His 25 tackles (16 solo) are more than twice as many as anyone else on the team, as second best has just 10 tackles. He also has 3.5 TFL and a sack.

Alex Barrett, a senior defensive lineman, seems to get in the backfield incredibly quick, as he has half the teams’ sacks (3), three TFL, and has broken up four passes...more than any of their DBs have.

Graham will have to find a way to avoid Barrett while getting his passes over the big man’s paws. And running backs Joel Bouagnon and Jordan Huff will need to find a way to chew up yards and keep drives alive (something they have struggled to do so far this season).

Kenny Golladay will also need to have a big game to keep NIU close, possibly both on the ground and in the air as he did in Wyoming. Last week Golladay only managed 48 total yards on five touches.

Since the start of last year, when Golladay reaches 70+ receiving yards, the Huskies are 8-2 (losing only to Ohio and Wyoming) while averaging 40.3 points per game. However, when he doesn’t eclipse the 70 yard mark NIU is 0-6 and averages just 14 points per game. So the Huskies need to find a way to get him the football.

The Aztecs are 11 point favorites and, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, have a 68.6% chance of winning.

You can catch the game on CBSSports Network this Saturday, September 17th, at 3:30 p.m. (2:30 CT; 12:30 PT).