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2023 MAC Football Week 8 Game Preview: Eastern Michigan Eagles at Northern Illinois Huskies

A rising NIU squad hosts an Eagles team who hopes to drag the Huskies into the mud.

Northern Illinois v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Eastern Michigan takes their two game winning streak to DeKalb, Illinois where they face off against the Huskies of Northern Illinois. The Huskies are also on a two game winning streak. The Eagles are 4-3 (2-1 MAC), while the Huskies are the opposite with a 3-4 overall record— but more importantly, an identical 2-1 MAC record.

With how far ahead Toledo is at present, both teams will absolute have to win if they have any hopes of claiming the West division by the end of the weeknight season.

Game notes

  • Time and date: Saturday, October 21th, 2023 at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time
  • Location: Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, Illinois
  • Network: CBS Sports Network (A valid subscription is required.)
  • Gambling considerations: NIU is favored by 12 points, and the over/under is set at 44.5, per DraftKings.
  • All-time series: NIU leads the all-time series 35-16-2, with NIU winners of the last two contests.
  • Last meeting: A battered-and-bruised NIU exorcised some demons against EMU, scorching them for 410 offensive yards in a 39-10 beatdown on Oct. 15, 2022.

The Huskies on offense are led by quarterback Rocky Lombardi (who is no relation to the famous NFL coach— though his dad Tony did have a 30-year collegiate coaching career. Rocky has a 57 percent completion rate for an average of 170 yards per game with six touchdowns and four interceptions, while also adding on two rushing scores. The Huskie ground game is led by running back Antario Brown, who averages 93 yards per game. Of note is that the Huskies have improved over the last three games. In those games, they average 37 points per game versus 16 points in their first four games. Their other offensive stats have improved considerably as well.

On defense, they have allowed 22 points per game, averaging 165 yards allowed in the air and 155 yards allowed on the ground. Overall, they have 14 sacks, three fumble recoveries and seven interceptions. Huskie safety Nate Valcarcel is on a four-game turnover streak, quickly becoming one of NIU’s most dynamic playmakers. The leading tackler is Raishein Thomas with 41 total tackles (solo and assists). Another player of note is JaVaughn Byrd with two interceptions.

The Eagles are led on offense by Austin Smith who also has a 57 percent completion rate. He has averaged 136 passing yards per game and has three interceptions. The Eagles split their main rushing duties between Jaylon Jackson and Samson Evans, who both average about 48 yards per game. The main receiver is Tanner Knue who pretty much doubles the next receiver.

On defense, the Eagles have held their opponents to 19 points per game, including 185 yards per game allowed in the air and 202 yards allowed on the ground. They have 13 sacks, six fumble recoveries and six interceptions. They are led in tackles by Joe Sparacio. Bennett Walker leads in interceptions with three.

This is a tough one to predict. If I went by records, I would say that the Eagles will win by a field goal or less but if I go by recent records, I would predict that it will be a blowout by the Huskies. Stats-wise, the two teams are pretty evenly matched, but the Huskies have shown signs of improvement over the past three games. That indicates a team that is finding their grove and I’m not sure the Eagles have found their grove yet (despite a two-game winning streak). Given past history, I’m going to predict that the Huskies squeak by the Eagles in a close one.

The game will be broadcast on WEMU at 89.1 in the Ypsilanti area and if you live near DeKalb, it will be on WDKB at 94.9. It will also be streaming at ESPN+.