The Northern Illinois Huskies will celebrate the 17 seniors on the roster this Wednesday when they host the Western Michigan Broncos in the final game at Huskie Stadium in 2017.
Western Michigan (6-4, 4-2) has split their last four games while the Huskies’ (7-3, 5-1) look to keep possible spot in the MAC Championship Game open (if Bowling Green or these same Broncos can upset the Rockets in their final two games, NIU would take sole possession of first place).
This will mark the 43rd meeting between the two teams with WMU holding a 24-18 advantage over the Huskies, despite the fact that NIU has won seven of the last eight meetings.
When WMU has the ball...
For the Broncos the key on offense will be getting the MAC’s leading rusher, Jarvion Franklin, involved. Rushing yards have been hard to come by against this stout Huskie defense. It’s especially critical as freshman QB Reece Goddard, who’s in for the injured Jon Wassink, will most likely be starting again. Goddard, in his two starts so far, hasn’t done much - completing just 37.8% of his passes for 139 yards and an interception.
Franklin, however, comes into the game the only MAC rusher with 1000+ yards, entering Wednesday’s contest with 1061 yards and 10 TDs on 193 carries (5.5 yards per carry). If WMU wants to pull the upset, he’ll need to have a great game against a Huskie defense that is only allowing 2.8 yards per carry and just 109.8 rushing yards per game.
Goddard could find success against a somewhat porous NIU secondary though. The Huskies have allowed yards through the air as of late, allowing 213.1 yards per game. His main targets will be D'Wayne Eskridge and Keishawn Watson. Watson leads the team in receptions (36) and touchdowns (6) while Eskridge has roughly a third of all receiving yards for the Broncos (506 of the 1587) and has found the end zone three times.
However, even though yards have been easy to come by, the Huskie defense has gotten tons of pressure on opposing QBs and forced quite a few turnovers. They’re fifth in the country in sacks and 11th in interceptions (with 14). And we all know how good Sutton Smith has been this year for NIU - 22 tackles for a loss (2nd in the NCAA and an NIU record) and 10.5 sacks (third in the NCAA).
When NIU has the ball...
For the Huskies offense, Marcus Childers will once again be running the show. NIU is 4-1 when he starts and the Huskies have seen some clear improvement on offense since the beginning of the season.
Childers has completed just under 58% of his passes for 1248 yards and a nice 13:3 touchdown to interception ratio. Plus, he’ been pretty good with his feet too - adding 398 yards on the ground and four rushing touchdowns.
On the ground NIU has a plethora of backs: Jordan Huff (who returned from injury last week), Marcus Jones, Tommy Mister, and Tre Harbison. Huff will most likely get the bulk of the work but the other three can also chew up yardage as well. However, NIU goes against the third best rush defense in the MAC. The Broncos only give up a few more yards per game than NIU does, at 147.2 per game and 4.1 yards per carry.
Like the Huskies pass defense, the WMU secondary does allow yardage. And they’ll be tasked with stopping the four-headed monster that makes up NIU’s receiving core. Spencer Tears, Chad Beebe, Christian Blake, and D.J. Brown are all within 75 yards of each others (408, 390, 378, 333 respectively) with Blake and Tears each having four scores. Tight end Shane Wimann leads the team in TD grabs, with seven, and is a close fifth in yards with 266.
However, Western (like NIU) can force turnovers themselves. They lead the MAC in turnover margin (+7) and have 22 takeaways, 13 fumbles and nine interceptions. Which is not good for a Huskie team that has coughed the ball up a total of 19 times (nine picks thrown and ten lost fumbles).
When: Wednesday, November 15th at 7 p.m. (6 p.m. CST)
Where: Huskie Stadium — DeKalb, IL
Spread: NIU -9.5
ESPN FPI Predictor: NIU has a 59.7% chance to win
All-time: WMU 24-18; At NIU: WMU leads 11-10