The Western Michigan Broncos (3-0) are sitting atop their division, as the only undefeated team remaining in the MAC West, after holding off CMU’s comeback attempt last week. And, Saturday afternoon, they’ll put their spotless record on the line against the Northern Illinois Huskies (0-3), who are still looking for their first victory this season.
When: Saturday, November 28th at Noon (11:00 a.m. CST)
Where: Waldo Stadium - Kalamazoo, MI
Weather: Clear and in the low 40s at kickoff
Odds: WMU is favored by 20 points and has a 88.8% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI. The over/under is 64.5.
The Huskies and Broncos have previously met 45 times, with Western Michigan holding a slim 25-20 series lead over NIU.
The first game of this series took place in September of 1950 but the schools would not meet again until 1969. However, since that initial 19 year hiatus, the two have became real close and have met almost every year since. The Huskies and Broncos have matched up every season since 1969 with just seven exceptions - 1986, 1989, 1990, and from 1993-1996.
As is the case with most of the rivalries NIU has built, the Huskies lost a lot of the early games, only making the series competitive within the past twenty or thirty years.
This series is no different. Western claimed 14 of the first 15 games - including the first seven meetings. NIU finally got in the win column in 1975, with a 20-0 shutout, before losing the next seven games.
After the 1-14 start for the Huskies, the teams would basically split the next 19 games in the series (WMU held a 23-11 lead). But, since 2009, the Huskies have owned the the Broncos, claiming nine of the last 11 games and pulling themselves closer to even with WMU.
Largest Margin of Victory:
NIU: 42-7 (35 points), 2005
WMU: 37-6 (31 points), 1976
Longest Win Streak:
NIU: 7 games (2009-2015)
WMU: 7 games, twice (1950-1974, 1976-1982)
Current Streak (last meeting):
NIU - 1 (17-14, 2019)
Points per game: 21.7
Points allowed: 40.0
Total yards: 351.0 (237.0 passing, 114.0 rushing)
Yards allowed: 401.7 (196.0 passing, 205.7 rushing)
NIU is coming off of one of their better performances this season, a 31-25 loss to Ball State. However, there is still a lot of work to be done in DeKalb if the Huskies are going to steal a game this year.
The defense is giving up a ton of yardage but has been able to keep opponents out of the endzone relatively well as, out of the 120 points scored against the Huskies, 30 points (25%!!!) have come when NIU has had the ball - two fumbles returned for touchdowns, two interceptions returned for touchdowns, and a fumble that resulted in a safety.
Linebackers Kyle Pugh and Nick Rattin have been anchoring that defensive unit. The two lead the team in tackles, Pugh with 25 and Rattin with 20, with Pugh also leading the team in sacks (1.5) and tackles for loss (1.5, tied with Michael Kennedy).
They have struggled to get pressure in the backfield, as they only have 12 TFLs on the year and six sacks - most of which came last game as they recorded five TFLs and three sacks against Ball State.
On offense, it’s still a gamble as to what we’ll see. They’re gaining yards, and have gone above 400 yards in two of their three contests, but have had way too many self-inflicted wounds and have not been consistent in their play.
Their ground attack features two backs, both now over 100-yards on the season, as freshman Harrison Waylee has carried the ball 40 times for a net of 152 yards (3.8 yards/carry) and junior transfer Erin Collins has 39 rushes for 138 yards (3.5 yards/carry) and three touchdowns.
Ross Bowers has been under center for the most part this season, going 60/100 for 641 yards with a pair of touchdowns and two interceptions. But a weak offensive line has forced a lot of bad plays and poor decisions.
But, as I said in the NIU reaction piece last week, I wouldn’t mind seeing a younger player start taking some snaps this season as well. The Huskies have a slew of mobile quarterbacks that they’ve brought in this season that could help get away from pressure more and, with Coach Hammock already decided on playing a ton of freshmen/underclassmen...why not see what a new quarterback can do too?
Bowers main target has been Tyrice Richie, who already has 27 receptions this season so far - that’s the most in MAC (Kent State’s Isaiah McKoy is second in the conference with just 20 receptions). Richie has gained 284 yards and a touchdown on his 27 grabs.
Cole Tucker, Daniel Crawford, and Treyvon Rudolph are the only other Huskies with more than two receptions. Tucker has 11 grabs for 123 yards and a score; Crawford is sitting at 70 yards on ten receptions; and Rudolph is actually second on the team with 157 yards gained on his eight catches.
Points per game: 50.33
Points allowed: 31.67
Total yards: 516.4 (310.7 passing, 205.7 rushing)
Yards allowed: 387.6 (217.3 passing, 170.3 rushing)
Western has proven time and time again that they have one of the best offenses in the MAC, and the NCAA. Their 516.4 yards per game is 11th in the nation and second in the MAC, just behind the Kent State Golden Flashes...who average 616 yards/game, the most in the NCAA.
The Broncos 50.3 points per game is also second in the NCAA/MAC...once again just behind Kent State (who is scoring 52.7 points per game and leads all FBS schools).
WMU loves getting out to quick starts. The first quarter has been their best scoring quarter, with 44 of their 151 points (29.1%) coming in the first 15 minutes.
Quarterback Kaleb Eleby has been on fire this season. He’s connected on 67.7% of his throws for 928 yards, 11 touchdowns, and just one interception.
The WMU offensive line has been playing real solid too. Eleby has only been sacked three times and opponents have yet to record a QB Hurry stat against him too. In fact, the Broncos’ line has only allowed 11 tackles for a loss and three sacks so far.
The protection has also allowed half backs Sean Tyler and La’Darius Jefferson to run through teams. Tyler has 262 yards on 36 carries (7.3 yards/rush!!!) and two scores while Jefferson has tallied 254 yards on 51 runs (5.0 yards/rush) and a touchdown. Western, as a whole, is averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
When Eleby does pass the ball, his main target has been star wideout/returnman D’Wayne Eskridge. Eskridge already has 457 yards and six touchdowns, both of which lead the MAC...and he’s done that all on just 14 receptions. His 152.3 yards per game is second in the NCAA, only behind Nevada Wolf Pack receiver Romeo Doubs, who is netting 161.3 yards per game.
Jaylen Hall, Skyy Moore, and half back Sean Tyler have also been heavily involved in the passing attack. Hall is sitting at 199 yards and has four TDs on his seven receptions. Moore has snagged six passes for 118 yards and a score. And Tyler has added 68 receiving yards on 11 receptions to go along with his 262 rushing yards.
On defense, this team swarms to the ball, as five Broncos already have more than 20 tackles and another four are in double digits.
Senior safety Bricen Garner leads the team with 25 tackles. He also has two tackles for loss. Linebacker Treshaun Hayward is close behind with 23 tackles and a TFL.
But it has been safety A.J. Thomas that has really stood out. Thomas has 21 stops (15 solo) and leads the team with six tackles for loss and is also tied for first, with two sacks. Oh, and he also has a pass breakup and an interception that he returned 38 yards.
While the Huskie defense has been okay, it looks like it could be a long night for this young NIU team. Western can beat you on the ground, through the air, and with their defensive pressure (they’ve already racked up nine sacks and 26 TFL as a team).
Wouldn’t surprise me to see WMU up their points per game average and score both on offense and defense, as both Ball State and Buffalo have done against NIU.
The Huskies will be able to get some yards and some points but I don’t see this ending well for NIU.
NIU Huskies: 31
WMU Broncos: 52