It’s a classic game of strength vs strength and weakness vs weakness when Western Michigan hosts Northern Illinois. The Huskie offense is the strength of their team and the Broncos’ defense leads their team. The winner of that battle has the upper hand in this matchup.
When the Broncos have the ball, both teams have the opportunity to look dominant. The Huskie defense has struggled to date and the Broncos are in week ten still looking for answers at quarterback. It won’t take much for either team to make an impact when their opponent is inconsistent at best.
Northern Illinois is playing for pride and Western Michigan needs to go 3-0 the rest of November to become bowl eligible. It’s unlikely, but they would do well to take it one game at a time starting here.
- Time and Date: Wednesday, November 9th at 7:00 pm ET
- Network: ESPNU (A valid subscription is required.)
- Location: Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo, Michigan
- All-time series: The Western Michigan Broncos hold a 27-20 series lead over the Northern Illinois Huskies. Western Michigan won last year's game against a Northern Illinois squad that already had won the MAC West and was resting starters.
- Odds: Northern Illinois is favored by one point and the game has an over/under spread of 50 points, per OddsShark.
The Northern Illinois Huskies through Week 9:
Northern Illinois’ offense is the best unit of either team in the game. The only team that has more points scored in the MAC West is a very complete Toledo offense. The problem the Huskies have to deal with is their own quarterback's health.
Rocky Lombardi hasn’t played since October 15 against Eastern Michigan and Ethan Hampton, his replacement, last played against Toledo on October 8. He threw four interceptions to one defensive back in that game.
Their remaining options are sophomore transfer Justin Lynch and freshman Nevan Cremascoli. Lynch has seen the field regularly but as a running threat. He was given one start and struggled to be effective in the passing game. Cremascoli started their last game against Central Michigan and was forced into throwing the ball 33 times when the Huskies fell behind 21 points in the second quarter. Cremascoli was trusted more to throw the ball, but the results weren’t better.
Who plays quarterback isn’t the most important factor to their offense, as the Huskies aren’t exactly a balanced attack and run the ball heavily. Their rushing attack is creative, and leans on Harrison Waylee and Antario Brown to be productive. The pair have combined for more than 1400 yards this season and 11 touchdowns. They are fourth and fifth in the MAC for running backs in yards per rush.
Brown lines up as the quarterback in the Wildcat formation multiple times a game and takes advantage of the numbers advantage that formation creates. Their quarterbacks carry the ball and can’t be ignored by the defense, which creates more space for the running backs.
All those rushing yards and points, but two wins. What gives?
The defense has struggled to stop the pass. As a unit, they’re stout against the run and have allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns in the MAC and less than four yards per rush by opposing offenses. Their opponents have responded by completing 64% of their passes and throwing 27 touchdowns. That’s the most touchdowns given up in the MAC and second place has 21. It’s a wide margin.
Luckily for them, Western Michigan has not been able to move the ball or score consistently. The Huskies need to force the Broncos into the same failing script Miami and Bowling Green did: shut down the run and get to third down. The Huskies should hold an advantage along the line in third and short situations and third and long is predictable.
Michael Kennedy and Devante O’Malley are the anchors on the defensive line that should free up linebacker Daveren Rayner to make plays in the Western Michigan backfield.
The Western Michigan Broncos through Week 9:
Before the last two weeks it wasn’t clear that the Bronco defense was keeping a struggling offense in games. The Broncos were within one possession of Michigan State, Pitt and Ohio entering the fourth quarter. They were outscored 41-0 combined in the fourth quarters of those games for a myriad of reasons. The defense can only hold all the water for so long without support from the offense.
The WMU defense has given up 23 combined points in their last two games. The offenses they faced weren’t good, so this game sets up as a true test of the defenses new energy. The defense has been living off of tackles for loss and sacks to keep offenses off the front foot. NIU’s offense has the lowest sack rate in the MAC and their rushing attack has rushed for the second most yards in the conference.
Northern Illinois’ offense uses big plays to move the ball and get in the endzone. When those get taken away they settle for field goals too often. If the Broncos can keep NIU out of the endzone they will have done their job. Linebacker Corvin Moment has 10.5 tackles for loss this season and Marshawn Kneeland has added another nine this season. Those two, and the rest of the front seven, have the most difficult job of any Bronco position unit. The Broncos are more than comfortable with that group shouldering the load.
Quarterback Treyson Bourget started his second game last week and it looks like the starting job is his to lose. He was shaky in the first half but produced a great second half to get the Broncos within striking distance of the win. It remains to be seen if that half is Bourguet getting comfortable with the offense or second half adjustments, but his first home game as a starter is an ideal situation to find out.
The Northern Illinois defense is one of the worst in the nation on paper, but the Bronco offense doesn’t look a lot better. The Huskies are around the national average in stopping short yardage runs, which the Broncos love in third down and two or less to go. That will definitely be something to watch as the game progresses.
Are the Broncos creating short yardage situations in third down with success on first and second down? Are they being creative with the third and short call or they diving into a mass of big bodies? Converting six of ten attempts between seven and fourteen yards like they did against Bowling Green is hardly sustainable.
Sean Tyler ran the ball 26 times last week and Zahir Abdus-Salaam only ran the ball twice. Don’t expect that to become a more balanced split, Abdus-Salaam has not been effective, but the offensive line needs to create more opportunities for the running game. Tyler was held to less than four yards a carry last week. Tyler has a tendency to be patient in the backfield waiting for space to appear, but this season it’s not there.
Western Michigan has the better defense at home and an offense that there is reason to believe is getting better.
Northern Illinois has the best half-team in the game and they run the ball as well as anyone in the MAC.
Both teams have massive weaknesses to their game and try to leverage whatever advantage they have whenever they can. It’s been a month since the Broncos got to enjoy playing well at home and the latest version of the offense hasn’t played at Waldo Stadium.
Northern Illinois is going to find intermittent success running the ball and the only reason it’s intermittent is because the WMU defense will be able to focus on it. In standard downs the Huskies will run predictably allowing the defense to find some success and hold NIU to some field goals. The Bronco offense won’t be clean but will be in control of the game most of the evening. They will move the ball with chunk plays to their receivers and score just enough points to hold onto a win with white knuckles.
Northern Illinois 20
Western Michigan 21