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2023 MAC Football Week 7 Game Preview: Ohio Bobcats at Northern Illinois Huskies

The Huskies celebrate homecoming with a big match up against the 5-1 Ohio Bobcats

Northern Illinois v Miami Ohio Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The Northern Illinois Huskies and Ohio Bobcats are both coming off of blowout wins last week and will look to keep their momentum rolling. The Bobcats (5-1, 2-0 MAC) have won five straight games and have crushed their MAC opponents by a combined score of 80-24. The Huskies (2-4, 1-1 MAC) were able to right the ship and end a four game losing skid with their 55-14 win over Akron last Saturday but will need a win to keep up with Toledo in the West.

Game notes

  • Time and date: Saturday, October 14 at 4:00 p.m. ET
  • Network: ESPNU
  • Location: Huskie Stadium — DeKalb, IL
  • Spread: Ohio (-6.5)
  • Over/under: 44
  • All-time series: NIU leads, 13-11
  • Last meeting: Ohio 24, NIU 17 — October 22, 2022
  • Last 5 meetings: NIU leads 3-2

Getting to know the Bobcats

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Ohio Matt Lunsford-USA TODAY Sports

Normally we start by talking about the offense...but with the Bobcats, their defense is king. Ohio is fourth in the NCAA in total defense, allowing just 235.7 yards per game with only Michigan, Air Force, and Penn State allow fewer yards.

They also have the seventh best scoring defense in the FBS, with opponents averaging a mere 11.83 points per game, and the seventh best defense on third downs, with foes converting just 26% of the time. Oh, and their passing defense is ninth best (162 yards per game), their rush defense is fifth best (73.7 yards per game), and their tenth in turnovers gained (twelve turnovers forced). Basically their in the top 25 of any and every defensive category.

Linebacker Bryce Houston has already tallied 59 total tackles (t-13th most in the NCAA) and leads the team with his 7.5 TFL. He also has 1.5 sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble, and a quarterback hurry. Fellow linebacker, Keye Thompson, is right behind Houston, with 32 stops, four TFL, three QBH, two pass break ups, a sack, an interception, and a fumble recovery.

Up front Shane Bonner and Rayyan Buell can cause havoc. Buell has 16 tackles, seven of them in the backfield, two QB hurries, and leads the team with 3.5 sacks, although Bonner is nipping at his heals, with three. To go with his three sacks, Bonner has also tallied a team-leading four QBH and has 3.5 tackles and nine total stops.

Safeties Austin Brawley and Walter Reynolds patrol the secondary. They rank third and fourth in tackles, respectively, with Brawley bringing down the ball carrier 29 times and Reynolds netting 24 stops. Brawley has two picks, two pass break ups, and a fumble recovery while Reynolds has added a sack and an interception.

On offense, they have a quarterback named they have for the past decade or so. Kurtis Rourke is completing nearly 64% of his passes and has 909 yards and eight touchdowns to just two interceptions. He’s also only been sacked three times.

Sam Wiglusz is the main target, catching 25 passes already this season for 248 yards and a pair of touchdowns. However, Miles Cross has been the most dangerous receiver for the Bobcats. Cross leads the team with four receiving touchdowns and has 246 yards on his 17 catches - an average of 14.5 yards per catch. Tyler Walton and tight end Will Kacmarek are the other Bobcats with ten or more receptions. Walton has 17 for 176 and score while Kacmarek has ten grabs for 100 yards and two TDs.

On the ground they use a combination of Sieh Bangura and O’Shaan Allison. Bangura has carried the ball 83 times for 328 yards (4.0 yards/carry) and has scored twice. Allison has 78 rushes for 239 yards (3.1 yards/carry) and has one touchdown. Rourke acts as their third halfback, carrying the ball 27 times for 133 yards and a rushing TD as well. Backup quarterback, Parker Navarro, is their Jordan/Justin Lynch and might get a few carries as well. He has ten rushes for 107 yards and is seven of ten throwing the ball for 65 yards with two passing TDs and an interception.

Getting to know the Huskies

NCAA Football: Northern Illinois at Boston College Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

After a slow start on offense, the Huskies have come alive the past few games, scoring 81 points in the last six quarters of play.

Quarterback Rocky Lombardi has looked much better the past few games after a....rocky start. In the previous two games, against Toledo and Akron, he completed 31 of his 46 passes (67.4%) for 449 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. But this week he’ll have to do it without his leading receiver, as Kacper Rutkiewicz was injured last week and has been ruled out for this game.

Rutkiewicz leads the team with 20 receptions and 313 yards. But, with him out, NIU will lean more on Trayvon Rudolph, Grayson Barnes, Davis Patterson, and tight end Chris Carter. Barnes is second on the team with 145 yards and a score on his nine grabs. Rudolph has made his way up to third on the team, as he now has 138 yards and a score on his 15 receptions. Carter is tied with Rutkiewicz for most receiving TDs, with two, and has 130 yards on nine receptions while Patterson has 125 yards on his 11 grabs.

After averaging just 85 rushing yards per game over the first four weeks, the Huskie ground game has also come alive the past two games. Against Akron, NIU ran for 380 yards, with Antario Brown destroying the Zips and finishing the day with career-high 280 yards and four TDs on his 13 carries. Brown leads the team with five touchdowns and his 616 rushing yards is now 13th best in the NCAA and second best in the MAC (Toledo’s Peny Boone has just 30 more yards). Gavin Williams has been a solid backup to Brown, as he has amassed 142 yards and a pair of TDs on his 38 carries.

For as good as Ohio’s defense has been this season, don’t sleep on this Huskie defense either. Last season Northern was one of the worst defenses on third downs and in passing yards allowed...but this year, NIU has totally changed it around. They are ranked 13th in passing defense, allowing just 166.5 yards per game and are in the top-20 on third down defense, letting opponents convert just 32.1% of the time.

Their 4.67 penalties per game is tied for 21st best in the FBS and the Huskies are ranked 34th in total defense, giving up just 331.5 yards per game. So we might be in for a defensive battle here.

Raishein Thomas continues to be a stud up front. He leads the team in tackles (34) and has four tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, three quarterback hurries, and a pass break up. On the line with him, George Gumbs Jr. and Roy Williams have also been having great seasons. Gumbs leads the team in TFL (5) and sacks, with 3.5 sacks, while Williams is right behind him with three sacks.

In the secondary Nate Valcarcel has been clutch. He has 25 tackles, a QBH, a TFL, a pair of interceptions, and a fifty yard fumble return for a touchdown. Jaden Dolphin and Devin Lafayette have also been solid, combining for 54 tackles and 2.5 TFL with Lafayette adding a pair of forced fumbles.