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2021 MAC Football Week 2 Game Preview: Wyoming Cowboys at NIU Huskies

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The Huskies will look to start 2-0 for the first time since 2015.

NCAA Football: Northern Illinois at Georgia Tech Jenn Finch-USA TODAY Sports

Both the Northern Illinois Huskies and the Wyoming Cowboys are coming off of close, last-minute wins. The Huskies escaped from Atlanta with a victory over an ACC opponent, connecting on a two-point conversion to down the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 22-21 with just 38 seconds left on the clock. Wyoming struggled but was able to sneak by FCS-foe Montana State, 19-16, on a 21-yard touchdown pass with 47 seconds remaining.


Game Info

When: Saturday, September 11th at 1:30 p.m (12:30 p.m. CST)
Where: Huskie Stadium — DeKalb, IL
Watch: ESPN+
Weather: High 80’s and sunny
Odds: Wyoming is favored by 7 points but NIU has a 62.2% chance of winning according to ESPN’s FPI


The first time these two teams met, back in 2016, featured a heck of a contest. After a three hour rain delay, the Huskies and Cowboys needed not just one overtime...not just two overtimes...but THREE overtime sessions to finally decide the game. It was Josh Allen, now the star of the Buffalo Bills, that ran in the game winning score and lifted Wyoming over the Kenny Golladay-led Huskies by a final score of 40-34.


The Cowboys (1-0)

Quick Facts:
Last week: 19-16 win over FCS Montana State
2020 Record: 2-4
Head Coach: Craig Bohl (8th season, 39-44)
Offense: Pro-style, West Coast
Defense: 4-3 (Tampa 2)

Despite struggling last week, Wyoming does return almost all of their starters from last year, with 22 starters coming back this season (all 11 on defense, 10 on offense, and one on special teams).

Offensively, they are led by junior quarterback Sean Chambers who has now appeared in 14 games for the Cowboys. Last week he was pretty solid, completing 57.7% of his passes (15/26) and throwing for 196 yards and a touchdown. He did give up an interception and was also sacked twice but he countered that by added 51 yards on 14 carries.

Chambers spread the ball around well last week, with eight different receivers hauling in a catch. Ayden Eberhardt led the team with four grabs for 71 yards while three other Cowboy players had 25+ yards - Isaiah Neyor (3 grabs, 32 yards), Treyton Welch (2 receptions, 25 yards, TD), and Parker Christensen (2 catches, 23 yards). Eberhardt and Neyor were the teams’ leading receivers last year, each tallying 250 yards.

On the ground, Xazavian Valladay leads the way for Wyoming. Last week he totaled 77 yards on 19 carries while also catching a pass for five yards. Last season he was also the Cowboys’ leading rusher, carrying the ball 99 times for 550 yards (5.6/carry) and four touchdowns. Trey Smith and Titus Swen will most likely also see time. Smith had 488 yards and five TDs on 88 carries last season while Swen carried the ball five times for 14 yards last week.

Defensively linebacker Chad Muma had himself a game last week. The senior had 11 tackles, two TFL, a sack, and a fumble recovery. Last year he also dominated. His 72 tackles was second best in the Mountain West and 6th best in the NCAA. He also had eight TFL, three sacks, and forced and recovered a fumble in 2020. He’ll be looking to pressure the Huskies all night.

In their secondary, Braden Smith (safety) and C.J. Coldon (cornerback) had stellar games last week. Smith totaled eight stops and forced a fumble while Coldon had seven tackles and three pass break ups.

While the defense as a whole didn’t wrack up the stats they should have, they did play tough, bend-don’t-break football and held their opponent to just 4-12 on third downs.


The Huskies (1-0)

Rocky Lombardi started his NIU career with a bang! - throwing a game winning touchdown pass and then the two-point conversion attempt with just 38 seconds remaining. He finished the game 11/17 (64.7%) with 136 yards and two touchdowns and ran the ball five times for 23 yards. Most importantly, he was never sacked and, when he was pressured, he was able to get out of the pocket and throw the ball away. I think most Huskie fans would like to see more from him this week and hope has more than just a handful of opportunities to throw the ball.

Clint Ratkovich, the hybrid FB/RB, led the team with three grabs and a touchdown but only had 13 receiving yards. Tyrice Richie once again topped NIU in yardage, with 64 yards on his two catches.

On the ground we saw a bunch of Harrison Waylee last week. The freshman scampered for 144 yards and a score on 27 carries (5.3/rush), with a long of 35 that went for his lone touchdown. Ratkovich also had seven carries but, once again, was limited to just 13 yards.

Defensively the Huskies lost a huge part of their secondary when Devin Lafayette went out with a gruesome leg injury late in the second quarter last week, as he had already tallied six stops in the first 25 minutes of play.

Linebackers Lance Deveaux Jr. and Daveren Rayner stepped up in his absence. Deveaux led the team with 12 stops while Rayner was second with seven tackles and also added a sack.

Up front the Huskies looked much better than they have in the previous two years. Last season NIU finished with 11 sacks and had just three total QB hurries...however, against Georgia Tech last week, they had four sacks and four QBH - already surpassing last year’s total!


Prediction

If you asked me last week who would win this game I would’ve said Wyoming in a very close game. Now...I think it will still be close but the Huskies showed me a lot of grit, determination, and skill last week that has me changing my mind.

If the Huskies can play as tough on defense as they did, and find a few solid possessions on offense, I think they take down the Cowboys.

Lombardi looked real solid when he was allowed to throw the ball - an especially on NIU’s final drive. Waylee showed he can run well against anyone. The defense played well, got pressure, and stopped a pair of dual-threat QBs. And the offensive line looked real solid.

Wyoming won’t go quietly but, after what we saw from these schools last Saturday, the Huskies can certainly pull this thing out.

Wyoming - 27
NIU - 34