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2016 MAC Football Preview: NIU Huskies vs. USF Bulls

Huskies look to rebound after 3OT loss

NCAA Football: Northern Illinois at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

In last week’s season opener, the Northern Illinois Huskies were in a wild game against the Wyoming Cowboys that persevered through a two hour lightning delay and three overtimes before the Huskies finally fell to the Cowboys.

This week, the schedule doesn’t get any easier for NIU as they head south to Tampa, Florida to take on the USF Bulls. This will be the fourth meeting between the two teams, and the first since the 2010 International Bowl. The Huskies won the first meeting back in 2001 but lost in 2002 and then again in 2010.

The Bulls are coming off a big 56-20 win over FCS team Towson, a game in which they only had the ball for 22 minutes and still scored eight times.

Against the Tigers, USF had a balanced attack on the ground and through the air; throwing for 230 yards on 25 attempts and rushing for 214 on 41 carries. The Bulls spread the ball around a lot, as eight players ran the ball (no one having more than nine carries) and eight caught a pass as well (no one with more than three catches).

The Huskies linemen and LBs, who struggled stopping the run last week, might have another long day ahead of them as the Bulls have three solid running backs to defend, instead of just one.

The “three-headed monster” as they call themselves, is lead by junior Marlon Mack, a big six foot, 210 pound back, that is coming off of back-to-back 1000 yard seasons (1041 yards in 2014 and 1381 yards last year) and had nine carries for 58 yards and a touchdown last week. However, Mack suffered an injury last game and is questionable for the game, though it is most likely he will play. Behind Mack are Darius Tice and D’Ernest Johnson. The duo combined for 12 carries and 65 yards last week.

It could be considered a “four-headed monster” if you include their quarterback, Quinton Flowers. The junior had nine carries for 46 yards and two TDs rushing in addition to the 178 yards and two scores he threw for. Flowers did only complete 44% of his passes (8-18) and threw a interception.

If the Huskie secondary can play up to their potential, they could force some turnovers and might be able to stop the pass. This, of course, assumes NIU can stop Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The junior receiver stands 6’5 and started his career at NC State before transferring to USF last year. Last game, he led the Bulls with three grabs for 79 yards, including a 51-yard TD scamper. He was the only receiver with more than 45 yards and more than two catches.

Defensively, the Bulls forced four turnovers last week (three fumbles and one pick) while holding the Tigers to just 292 total yards. While the NIU has a better offense than Towson, the Huskies will need to be weary of linebackers Auggie Sanchez and Nigel Harris. Harris last week had six tackles, 1.5 TFL, a sack, and a 49-yard interception.

Joel Bouagnon and Jordan Huff will need to figure out a way to get yards on the ground as both struggled last week, combining for just 58 yards on 19 carries. Receiver Kenny Golladay led all rushers as he had 82 yards and a score on six jet-sweeps

In the secondary, USF has quite a few strong player including corner Tajee Fullwood (who led the team with seven tackles) and a pair of 6’3 safeties; Malik Dixon and Jaymon Thomas.

NIU can counter with a pair of 6’4 receivers in Golladay and Clayton Glasper, but Drew Hare is going to have to be very careful when throwing up deep balls against this secondary.

The Huskies enter as 14 point underdogs, with ESPN’s Football Power Index giving them only a 14.2% chance to win. Rod Carey will need to fix his play calling, as it has become stale and predictable...but if the offense can figure out how to move the ball on the ground and Hare can make solid decisions with his passes, the Huskies can keep it close.

You can catch the game Saturday, September 10th on CBSSports Network at 7 p.m. (6 p.m. CST).