The Buffalo Bulls will host the Northern Illinois Huskies on Wednesday evening in the penultimate game for both teams.
Buffalo (4-6, 2-4 MAC) has now dropped two straight games and needs to win out in order to become bowl eligible. However, their final two games are against two of the top teams in the West - Ball State (the reigning MAC Champs) next week and this surprising Huskie squad.
The Huskies (7-3, 5-1 MAC) have continued to find ways to win games late, squeaking by the Cardinals last week, 30-29, on a last second field goal. They essentially have a two game lead over every team in the West and a win against Buffalo clinches the division for NIU.
- When: Wednesday, November 17th at 7 p.m. (6 p.m. CST)
- Where: Huskie Stadium — DeKalb, IL
- Watch: ESPN2. A valid cable subscription is required.
- Weather: Upper-50s, but rainy throughout.
- Odds: NIU is favored by 1.5 points but Buffalo has a 60.2% chance of winning according to ESPN’s FPI
On the season the Huskies are averaging 31.5 points and 432.5 yards per game. However, NIU’s offense has really come on as of late and, over the last three games, they’re averaging 40.3 points and a whopping 562 yards per game...offensive numbers we haven’t seen in DeKalb since Jordan Lynch left! And that was against three of the best teams in the MAC - Ball State, Kent State, and CMU.
Northern continues to run the ball well, no matter who is in the backfield. The Huskies’ 220.5 rushing yards per game ranks 15th best in the NCAA. For the past few weeks Jay Ducker has been the feature back and he hasn’t disappointed. He leads the Huskies in rushing, with 734 yards, is averaging 5.6 yards per carry, and has three TDs.
The Huskies passing attack has also become very dangerous over the past month or so. While they’re only netting 212 yards per game, the numbers have been steadily climbing ever since the Bowling Green game...when NIU attempted just eight passes for 38 yards.
However, quarterback Rocky Lombardi has been slinging it ever since that game. Over the last three games he’s averaging 381.3 yards per game, thrown seven touchdowns, and has just one interception...oh, and he shattered the single-game record for the Huskies when he threw for 532 yards against Kent State. On the season, Lombardi has completed 58.2% of his passes for 2117 yards and has 13 TDs to just seven interceptions. He’s also only been sacked six times and has made plays with his legs. He is third on the team in rushing, with 376 yards, and his five rushing TDs ranks second on the team (behind Clint Ratkovich’s eight).
With Tyrice Richie out, Trayvon Rudolph has stepped up and been the spark the Huskies passing attack has needed. Rudolph has 40 catches and leads the team in receiving yards (747), touchdowns (7), and average per reception (18.7)...plus he also broke a single-game record for NIU, and for the MAC, when he amassed 309 receiving yards against Kent State. Cole Tucker returned from injury a few weeks ago and is also a dangerous wide out for NIU. He caught a 58-yard TD pass last week for NIU and has 369 yards and a pair of scores on 23 receptions this season.
On defense, the Huskies continue to bend early on before doing just enough in the final quarter or so. NIU is allowing 441 yards and 33.3 points per game but, in the fourth quarter, the Huskies have given up just 54 total points and are out-scoring teams 105-54 over the final 15 minutes.
The secondary and linebacking corp for the Huskies have done most of the work, as NIU has struggled to get pressure up front. The top six tacklers for NIU are all DBs or LBs, with Raishein Thomas (36 tackles) being the leading tackler amongst defensive linemen.
C.J. Brown leads the team, with 68 stops, while Dillon Thomas, Jordan Hansen, and Lance Deveaux Jr. are all gathered together with 53, 52, and 50 tackles respectively. Thomas still leads the team in sacks (3) and TFL (5.5).
Buffalo comes into this game averaging 420.5 yards and 32 points per game. Like the Huskies, their numbers are pretty even. On the ground they’re gaining 197.6 yards per game while throwing for 222.9 yards per game.
Quarterback Kyle Vantrease has struggled over the past few games and then, after leaving the BG game a few weeks ago because of an injury, backup QB Matt Myers has seen more playing time lately. The past two weeks, Vantrease is just 16/30 for 189 yards and has zero touchdowns but thrown two picks.
Myers, in relief, has been a bit more effective. He has completed 54.3% of his passes and thrown for 315 yards and two TDs over the past two games. However, he’s also thrown a pick and been sacked five times in those two losses. Luckily, the Bulls shouldn’t have to deal with too much pressure from this Huskie d-line.
Quian Williams and Dominic Johnson have been the biggest threats in the passing attack for Buffalo. Williams leads the team in receptions (58) and yards (788) and he and Johnson are the only two Bulls to have multiple receiving touchdowns, with two each. Johnson has 404 yards on his 29 catches.
On the ground, Dylan McDuffie has led the Bulls since Kevin Marks Jr. went out over a month ago with a lower leg injury. McDuffie has 857 yards and ten touchdowns on his 159 carries (5.4/rush). Marks did see some limited action last week, when he carried the ball five times for 18 yards. He should seen more action this week as he looks to get back to his former self but McDuffie might still carry the load for the Bulls.
Buffalo’s defense has been allowing opponents to average 30.6 points and 426.1 yards per game (198.0 rushing and 228.1 passing). However, unlike what the Huskies have done in the fourth quarter defensively, Buffalo has been struggling on defense the longer the game goes on. Opponents have scored 107 points in the final frame, which is more than in any other quarter, and UB has been out-scored 107-71 in the final fifteen minutes of play.
The Bulls get a ton of pressure up front. The team has totaled 71 TFL and 34 sacks (5th in the NCAA) on the season so far. Defensive tackle Daymond Williams has been solid, leading the team with 5.5 sacks and adding 7.5 TFLs and two pass break ups to his total of 31 tackles.
Linebackers James Patterson and Kadofi Wright have been beasts for the Bulls. Patterson is averaging nearly ten tackles per game and his 93 total tackles ranks 16th in the NCAA and fourth in the MAC. He also has eight TFL, 4.5 sacks, two QBH, and has an interception and forced a fumble. Wright has tallied 49 tackles, leads the team in TFL (8.5) and pass break ups (5), and also has 2.5 sacks, a pick, a QBH, and forced and recovered a fumble.
The Bulls will come out hard as they’re playing for a bowl birth and need wins this week and next. However, the Huskies will be looking to clinch a spot in the MAC Championship Game so they’ll be fired up as well.
Buffalo will be able to get some pressure on Lombardi and Ducker in the backfield, which could limit the NIU offense early on. But the Huskies should be able to counter with quick hitters to Rudolph and Tucker and that strong ground attack should start to wear down the Bulls’ defensive front as the game goes on.
As with every NIU game this season, I expect this to be a close game with the Bulls pulling ahead early before the Huskies battle back in the second half and take over in the fourth quarter.
It’ll be close but I think the Huskies clinch the West here.
NIU - 34
Buffalo - 31