The Northern Illinois Huskies will host the Akron Zips this Saturday afternoon in the penultimate MAC kickoff of the 2022 season.
It hasn’t been a great year for either of these teams, as they both sit at the bottom of the MAC standings but will look to end the season on a high note.
Akron has lost nine straight games after winning their season opener against FCS foe St. Francis. The 1-9 (0-6 MAC) Zips have one more chance to notch a win against an FBS team this year as they’ll look to shock the Huskies at home. Northern Illinois, one of the preseason favorites to win the MAC, has suffered injury after injury. The Huskies have dropped five one-score games this season and have fallen to 3-8 (2-5 MAC)...their worst full season since 2007.
When: Saturday, November 26th at 1:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m. CST)
Where: Huskie Stadium - DeKalb, IL
Weather: Upper 40s and sunny at game time
Odds: NIU is favored by 10 points and has a 79.7% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI. The over/under is 53.
Despite Akron being in the MAC for 30 years and NIU hitting 25 years this season, these two teams have only met TEN times in conference play and 16 times overall.
The series was pretty even for the first 50 years or so. NIU claimed the inaugural game, back in 1966, but then the schools didn’t met again until 1987, when Akron evened the series. The Huskies would win the next two games, in 1988 and 1990, before the Zips countered with wins in 1991 and 1996.
In 1997 the teams became conference rivals, when NIU rejoined the MAC, but wouldn’t play each other until 2000, when NIU won the first conference game. In 2004, the Huskies would win their second straight against the Zips.
However, in 2005, Akron would even the series up again...beating NIU twice. First, in September when they claimed a 48-42 win over the Huskies in overtime. Nine weeks later, the teams met in the MAC Championship Game where Akron won on a late Hail Mary, winning 31-30.
However, since that MAC Championship Game, the Huskies have cruised to six straight victories, winning by an average of 24.8 points...or more than three touchdowns.
At Huskie Stadium, NIU is 6-2 with the average score in DeKalb being NIU 28.5 to Akron’s 16.8. They have won their last four home games against the Zips, with their only home losses coming in 1987 and 1996.
Points Allowed: 36.7
Yards Allowed: 432.2
Akron’s passing attack is very dangerous, with three talented receivers and a pretty solid quarterback. Their 283 passing yards per game is second most in the MAC and 21st best in all of the FBS.
The Zips offense runs through quarterback D.J. Irons. Irons connects on 66.8% of his throws and has passed for 2605 yards and ten touchdowns. He is also the team’s second leading rusher, netting 314 yards and four more touchdown on the ground. However, he has thrown seven interceptions and been sacked a whopping 41 times - which is the second most in the NCAA.
The trio of Shocky Jacques-Louis, Alex Adams, and Daniel George has combined for more than 165 receptions and over 2000 yards. Jacques-Louis has been amazing this season and leads the team in receptions (65) and yardage, with his 800 yards sitting in fourth place in the MAC (and he’s played two less games than the top three). He also has a pair of touchdowns. Adams tops the Zips in scores, with six TD grabs, and has 687 yards and 49 receptions overall. George has added 597 yards on his 53 catches.
On the ground, when it’s not Irons scrambling, Cam Wiley and Clyde Price III will split carries. Wiley leads the team with 358 yards on his 82 carries while Price III has 185 yards on 74 attempts. Both have five rushing touchdowns.
On defense Bubba Arslanian leads the team with 109 total tackles. That massive number is third most in the conference and nearly FIFTY more than the next nearest Zip, defensive back Nate Thompson, who has just 60 tackles. Arslanian also has 8.5 tackles for loss, two pass break ups, a sack, a quarterback hurry, and an interception.
Victor Jones and Zach Morton lead the Zips up front. Jones, a senior defensive lineman has brought down the ball carrier 43 times with 7.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, three QBH, and two PBU. Morton, another senior DL, has a team high in sacks (3.5) and forced fumbles (2) and also has 21 tackles, six TFL, two PBU, two QBH, and an interception.
Points Allowed: 31.7
Yards Allowed: 385.1
The Huskies have been using their fourth-string quarterback and their fourth-string running back over the last few games, in Nevan Cremascoli and Jaiden Credle respectfully.
Cremascoli - who replaced Justin Lynch, who replaced Ethan Hampton, who replaced Rocky Lombardi - is a walk-on true freshman who has shown he has potential to lead the team in the future. He has made some mistakes, throwing five picks and only completing 48.6% of his throws, but he has also thrown for 456 yards and five touchdowns in his three games.
Justin Lynch will most likely see some time as well but mostly as a runner. Lynch has 55 rushing attempts and just 20 passing attempts, which has netted him 260 yards and three TDs on the ground and just 118 yards through the air.
Wide receiver Cole Tucker didn’t play last week so the Huskie faithful will hope to see him one last time in uniform. The senior has four receiving touchdowns and leads the team with 41 receptions and 599 yards. If he’s out, look for Shemar Thornton and Kacper Rutkiewicz and the tight ends to make an impact. Rutkiewicz leads the team with six TD catches and has 405 yards on his 24 grabs. Thornton has 280 on his 26 receptions.
On the ground, the Huskies have been using Credle as of late. The past two games, he has rushed the ball 51 times for 233 yards and scored once. We might see Harrison Waylee and Antario Brown again as well, as they came in sporadically last game. Waylee leads the team with 157 carries and 872 rushing yards (scoring five TDs), while Brown has a team high seven touchdowns on his 110 carries and has netted 689 yards.
C.J. Brown has replaced Daveren Rayner as the Huskies leading tackler. Brown now has 73 tackles, an interception, and forced and recovered a fumble.
But the biggest difference for the Huskies has been up front where Raishein Thomas, Devonte O’Malley, and Michael Kennedy have stepped up and began to make plays. The trio of defensive linemen have 12.5 sacks - with Kennedy and O’Malley tied for the team lead at 5.5 each - and 22 TFLs, where Thomas leads the team with nine.
NIU is also one of the best in the MAC at forcing the QB out of the pocket and then bringing down the quarterback. NIU has recording 32 quarterback hurries this season - only Ohio has more (47) - and their 29 sacks ranks third and MAC and 30th in the NCAA.
Irons goes against one a very porous passing defenses in the the Huskies, who give up nearly 250 yards per game in the air. So he should be able to move the ball some.
However, with Irons being sacked so many times, and NIU having a very solid front four, look for the Huskies to get a ton of pressure on him and probably sack him a few times as well.
The Huskies should also be able to move the ball on one of the MAC’s worst defenses against the run.
NIU has the talent and depth to keep Akron winless against the FBS and get their seventh straight win in the series.
I would expect the Huskies to run the ball early and often, keeping Irons off the field as long as possible. NIU runs for 230+ yards and ends the season with a win.
NIU Huskies - 35
Akron Zips - 24