After missing out on a bowl game last season, the Northern Illinois Huskies were able to secure a post-season birth in 2023 by winning their final two games of the regular season.
The Huskies will be facing off against the Arkansas State Red Wolves in the tenth edition of the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama this Saturday at noon Eastern Time. This will be the third and final bowl meeting between the MAC and the Sun Belt in 2023, and the deciding game. The Ohio Bobcats ran past Georgia Southern in the Myrtle Beach Bowl while the Miami RedHawks fell to App State in wet and sloppy conditions in the Cure Bowl.
Let’s take a look at some of the numbers before the game:
NIU’s chances of winning
ESPN Analytics have given the Huskies the slight edge to win the game but, curiously, Vegas and the other betters are picking Arkansas State. The Red Wolves opened up as 1-point favorites and that number has continued to rise, as ASU is now a 3-point favorite in the Camellia Bowl. The over/under is set at 53.5
Against the spread, the Huskies are 5-7 this season and have failed to cover in four of their last five games.
The Red Wolves are the exact opposite of the Huskies, going 7-5 against the spread on the season and covering in four of their last five games.
Straight bowl losses for NIU
The Huskies have struggled in bowl games for the past decade or so...going 0-7 over the last dozen years. Their last bowl win? A 38-20 victory in the 2011 GoDaddy.com Bowl over these same Arkansas State Red Wolves. Quarterback Chandler Harnish and wide out Martell Moore balled out for the Huskies in the win, as Harnish threw for 274 yards and two TDs with Moore being the recipient of 224 of those yards on eight receptions.
Since that time, the Huskies have been thrashed in almost every bowl game, getting outscored 122-279 (an average score of 17-40).
Number of times Arkansas State has been in the Camellia Bowl
Arkansas State has played in nearly one third of the Camellia Bowls, as this is the Red Wolves third appearance, the most of any school. Their first appearance came back in 2017 when they took on Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders got off to a quick start, building a 28-10 lead midway through the third quarter but the Red Wolves would claw their way back before ultimately falling to MTSU 35-30.
They would be back just two years later, in 2019, where they would get off to a fast start. building a 27-13 lead late in the third quarter. FIU would make it interesting, cutting the lead to just one. But the Red Wolves would hold off the Panthers with a late score to win 34-26. That 2019 game was the last time the Red Wolves have been in the post season, and this is Butch Jones’ first bowl game as head coach of ASU.
NIU’s defensive rank in passing yards allowed
The Huskies have one of the best passing defenses in the entire nation, allowing just 164.6 yards per game. It’s best in the G5 and only Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Notre Dame, and Clemson allow fewer passing yards.
The stout defense is also in the top 30 in scoring defense (29th, at 21.17 points per game), first downs allowed (25th), total defense (21st, letting opponents gain just 316.9 yards per game), and defensive passing efficiency (11th).
NIU’s defense has kept them in almost every game this season and will be facing an offense that ranks 63rd in points per game (27.8) and passing yards per game (224.0) and is 75th in rushing, going for 151.5 per game.
Yards per reception for Courtney Jackson
ASU’s biggest aerial threat is Courtney Jackson. The 5’11 junior leads the team in receptions (38), yards (658), and touchdowns (7) and if he gets his hands on the ball, it’s usually a first down.
But the Red Wolves have a trio of receivers that can really do damage. In addition to Jackson, Corey Rucker and Jeff Foreman are equally as dangerous. While Rucker doesn’t have a touchdown on the season, he is second on the team in receptions (31) and receiving yards (598) and is averaging 19.3 yards per catch. Foreman leads the team in YPC, however, netting 20.8 per receptions; as he has 521 yards and four touchdowns on his 25 catches.
Antario Brown’s rushing yards
NIU is a run first team and there have been few better in the MAC than Antario Brown. After a slow start to the season he has scorched the fellow MAC schools. On the year he has 1,164 yards (19th most in the NCAA and 2nd in the MAC), averages 6.2 yards per carry, and has scored ten times.
Brown is actually doing better away from Huskie Stadium than he is at home, so this bowl game is good news for him. On the road, Brown is averaging 8.8 yards per carry - 86 carries for 757 yards - and has seven of his ten touchdowns. In DeKalb, he has just 407 yards on 101 carries (4.0 yards per rush) and three scores.
He can hurt you in a hurry too, as he dominates the first three quarters of the game...especially the third quarter. In the third frame, Brown has scored four touchdowns and is averaging 7.4 yards per rush, by far his best quarter.