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2021 MAC Football Week 10 Game Preview: NIU Huskies at Kent State Golden Flashes

Kent State hosts the Huskies in what could be a preview of the MAC Championship Game

NCAA FOOTBALL: OCT 04 Kent State at Northern Illinois Photo by Christopher Anderson/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Northern Illinois Huskies head to Kent, Ohio where they’ll face off against the Kent State Golden Flashes in some mid-week #MACtion Wednesday evening. Both teams should be well rested as they are each coming off an 11-day hiatus between games.

The Huskies enter this contest on a five game winning streak and are the only undefeated MAC squad left. NIU (6-2, 4-0 MAC) has found a way to win close games, as five of their six wins have been within one score.

Kent State (4-4, 3-1 MAC) had one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the MAC but have come on as of late, winning three of their last four. They are currently tied for first in the MAC East with the Miami RedHawks.

It will be the first time the Huskies and Flashes have met since 2017 and Kent State will be looking to end a ten game losing streak to NIU, last beating the Huskies back in 2001.


Game Info

When: Wednesday, November 3rd at 7 p.m. (6 p.m. CST)
Where: Dix Stadium — Kent, OH
Watch: ESPN2
Weather: Cloudy with a high of 38 at kickoff
Odds: Kent State is favored by 3.5 points and has a 56.6% chance of winning according to ESPN’s FPI



The Huskies

NIU’s offense has found a way to score when its needed most. The Huskies are averaging 29.8 points per game and have used the ground game to pound the rock, netting 232.8 rushing yards per game (12th in the NCAA). The Huskies are being out-scored in every quarter except one...the fourth. NIU has been lights out in the 4th quarter, out-scoring opponents 75-44 in the final 15 minutes of play.

Northern has been able to control the clock, however, as their average time of possession has been 33:30 minutes, which ranks 10th in the NCAA and second in the MAC (behind WMU). Recently NIU has really began to pump up that number...in their four MAC games, the Huskies have had the ball for an average of 36:51 minutes!

The Huskies are also coming off their most complete game on offense that saw the passing attack really shine and showed teams just how dangerous this offense can be.

In their last game against CMU, quarterback Rocky Lombardi had his best game as a Huskie. He torched the Chippewa defense for 348 yards and three TDs through the air. It was the first time he hit the 300-yard mark as a Huskie.

Joining in Lombardi’s success were wide receivers Trayvon Rudolph and Tyrice Richie. Rudolph also had his best game as a WR so far, snagging career-highs in receptions (6), yards (160) and touchdowns (2). On the season, Rudolph now has 18 catches for 330 yards and a team-leading four receiving touchdowns to go along with his 319 kick return yards, which includes a 100-yard return for another TD.

Last weekend Richie also recorded season-highs in receptions (8), yards (147), and TDs - as he scored his first touchdown on the season. Richie now has 40 cathes, 480 yards, and a touchdown this season. If Richie can catch 19 more passes and gain 467 more yards this season he’ll be in the top-10 all-time in receptions and receiving yards for NIU.

On the ground, Jay Ducker - who stated the season fourth on NIU’s depth chart - has been great for the Huskies as of late. After coming into the game against Bowling Green after Antario Brown fumbled, Ducker has gone off. He has 393 yards in the past two games, with 30+ carries and 180+ yards in each of those games, including a 210 yard performance against Bowling Green.

Defensively, NIU has played a bend-don’t-break style, giving up yardage and points but keeping the Huskies close and making big plays when it matters. The Huskie defense is allowing 31.5 points and 419.5 yards per game (185.4 rushing and 234.1 passing).

Safeties CJ Brown and Jordan Hansen, along with CB Jordan Gandy, have led the secondary. Brown leads the team in tackles (58) while Hansen is fourth with 40 stops but has also added four pass breakups, three TFL, a QBH, and forced a fumble. Gandy now sits at 33 tackles but leads the team in pass breakups (8) and fumble recoveries (2).

Linebackers Nick Rattin and Dillon Thomas have continued to play well in the middle. Rattin is second on the team with 45 tackles and leads the Huskies with five QBH. He also has 2.5 TFL, a pass breakup, and forced a fumble. Thomas, a converted DB, has been all over the field. He has amassed seven or more tackles in four of the last five games and now has 42 stops on the year and leads NIU with five TFL and three sacks, to go along with his three QBH and three PBU.


The Golden Flashes

Kent State’s offense has been electric this season, topping the MAC at 450.5 yards per game (27th best in the NCAA). And they’ve kept a real balanced attack at that, netting 230.4 yards passing and 220.1 yards rushing per game. Those 220 rushing yards per game is good enough for second in the MAC (behind NIU) and 16th in the NCAA.

Those numbers are made even more impressive by the fact that the Flashes are 123rd (out of 130) in time of possession, having the ball for just 26:38 per game. Kent’s offense is lighting quick and just as dangerous.

Everyone knows just how solid quarterback Dustin Crum has been the past few years. And, over the past few games, he’s been deadly. Over the past three games he’s thrown for 874 yards, six TDs, and zero interceptions and added another 157 yards and four more TDs on the ground for KSU. Crum has been so good that he actually hasn’t thrown a pick since Week 1, against Texas A&M, but he has been pressured quite a bit and has been sacked 23 times (including five times in the loss to WMU).

He has targeted Dante Cephas the most but Nykeim Johnson and Keshunn Abram have also been great for Kent State. Cephas leads the team in receptions (50), yards (683), and touchdowns (6); while Johnson has 403 yards and a score on his 36 catches and Abram has 22 grabs for 360 yards and a pair of scores.

On the ground, Marquez Cooper has gotten the bulk of the carries. Cooper is netting 4.7 yards per rush and has totaled 558 yards and five TDs on his 118 attempts. When Cooper needs a breather, Kent uses Xavier Williams. Williams has a touchdown and 378 yards on his 77 carries. Crum’s six rushing TDs is best on the team while his 368 yards on the ground is good for third on KSU.

Like the Huskies, Kent State’s defense has allowed opponents to rack up plenty of points and yards. The Golden Flashes defense is giving up 33.4 points and 474.9 yards per game. Those numbers aren’t great, as Kent ranks 124th in the nation in total defense and 113th in scoring defense. And it’s not just from the difficult non-conference schedule. In their four MAC contests, Kent is actually doing worse, allowing 37.25 points and 493.0 yards per game.

They have been saved by their great turnover margin, which is currently +14 and tied for best in the NCAA. The Flashes have recover six fumbles and intercept 13 passes this season. Their 13 picks is second best in the NCAA, behind Iowa who has 16 INTs.

Their secondary is filled with playmakers as five of their seven leading tacklers are DBs. Dean Clark leads the team with 56 total tackles and also has two pass breakups. But Keith Sherald Jr. has been a star. He’s fourth in tackles, with 42, but also has 4.5 TFL, a fumble recovery, and is one of THREE defenders that has three interceptions for Kent State (Elvis Hines and Montre Miller are the other players with three INT).

Linebacker A.J. Musolino has been able to get the most pressure on Kent’s opponents. Musolino leads the team in TFL (7.5) and is tied for first in sacks (2) and also has an interception.


Prediction

This game pits the one of the nation’s fastest offense against one of the country’s slowest offense.

The Huskies will most likely come out running the ball again, in an attempt to keep Crum and Kent State’s electric offense off the field. Plus, with the Flashes’ secondary being filled with ball-hawks and playmakers, it would make sense for NIU to keep the ball on the ground and test that KSU run defense that is allowing 204.5 rushing yards per game.

Crum and Kent State should be able to move the ball against this Huskie defense so it will come down to how well the Flashes’ defense can get NIU off the field.

Lombardi might be coming off his best game but I would bet that the game plan for the Huskies is very similar to the one they used against BG...run, run, run, and then run some more. I can easily see Lombardi having fewer than 10 passing attempts again unless, of course, the Huskies are behind late and are forced to throw.

Their games haven’t been pretty but this Huskie team has been able to do just enough to keep winning. I would expect more of the same from Hammock and his squad here.

NIU keeps the ball on the ground, keeps the clock running, and wins another close one on the road.

NIU - 31
Kent State - 28