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2023 Week 1 Game Preview: Northern Illinois Huskies @ Boston College Eagles

The Eagles and Huskies meet on the gridiron for the first time since 2017.

NCAA Football: Northern Illinois at Boston College Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Northern Illinois Huskies open their 2023 campaign this Saturday when they head to Massachusetts to take on ACC foe Boston College.

The last time the Huskies opened up a season against an ACC opponent, it went pretty well for them, as Rocky Lombardi and company upset the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Atlanta by a final score of 22-21 on Sept. 4, 2021.

This version of the Huskies hopes to accomplish the same against the Eagles on their home grounds:

Game notes

  • Time and date: Saturday, September 2 at 12:00 p.m. ET
  • Network: ACC Network
  • Location: Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
  • Gambling considerations: Boston College is an 8.5 point favorite with an over/under of 50.5, per DraftKings.
  • All-time series: Boston College leads, 3-0
  • Last meeting: NIU 20, BC 23 on September 1, 2017
  • Current streak: Boston College, 3 (1971, 2015, 2017)

This will be the fourth meeting all-time with Boston College, and their third as a member of the ACCB, as BC was an independent in 1971. The Eagles have claimed the first three match-ups but every game played between these two sides was within ten points. In fact, BC has won the previous two meetings by just three points (14-17 in 2015 and 23-20 in 2017).

You’re generally in for a pretty tightly-played contest when these two take the gridiron.

Saturday is the 15th time that NIU will face off against the ACC. The Huskies have a 3-11 record against ACC foes, with the average score going 16.7-25.1 against Northern, but they are 3-9 in the regular season and 0-2 in bowl games.


Boston College

Boston College v Notre Dame Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

On offense, the Eagles return Emmett Morehead as their starting quarterback. He played in ten games last year but took over the starting role for the final four games after their starter went down with an injury. He was able to spark the offense some and finished the year with 1254 yards, ten touchdowns, and a completion rate of 59.9 percent. He has a cannon of an arm and isn’t afraid to test it. He will challenge DBs with deep throws and can be really accurate. However, he did show signs of trying to force passes and, if pressure gets to him, he will toss up some panic throws; that led to him tossing six picks last season. Opponents were also able to tally 46 sacks on the season, although their line should be somewhat improved this season and that number should decrease.

Their backup is former UCF quarterback Thomas Castellanos, a dual-threat man that can beat you with his legs as well as him arm, which might come in handy if their offensive line continues to struggle this season.

The Eagles lost their leading receiver from last season, Zay Flowers, to the NFL leaving a huge hole for BC’s offense that needs to be filled. Flowers had 78 catches (30 percent of all receptions), 1077 yards (36.3 percent of all passing yards), and 12 touchdowns (57 percent of all passing TDs).

They did bring in Ryan O’Keefe, another UCF transfer. O’Keefe netted 73 catches for 725 yards last season and made the preseason watch list for the Hornung Award, the nation’s most versatile player. Dino Tomlin and Jaden Williams are also threats to look out for. Tomlin, a former Maryland Terrapin, hauled in 181 yards on ten catches last season while Williams, now a junior, can fly. The speedy Williams has already hauled in 30 passes for nearly 400 yards in his previous two seasons.

They will also rely on tight end George Takacs, a former member of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The big six-foot-six tight end hauled in 26 passes for 256 yards last season and will look to increase those numbers this season.

Boston College struggled to run the ball at all last season. In fact, they were downright dreadful. The Eagles netted just 63.3 rushing yards per game and a mere 2.1 yards per carry, both of which were dead last in the NCAA by a wide margin. BC managed just 759 rushing yards all season in 2022, with most of those coming from the legs of Patrick Garwo. Garwo, a senior, netted 403 yards on his 132 carries and scored three of the six rushing touchdowns for the Eagles. Alex Broome will back him up. Broome, a returning sophomore, carried the ball 50 times for 225 yards and a TD last season.

Northern Illinois

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 03 NIU at Kent State Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Huskies are nearly the exact opposite of the Eagles, as they rely on their running game to carry their offense. However, with senior quarterback Rocky Lombardi and star wide out Trayvon Rudolph returning, the passing attack should be much improved from last season.

The Huskies have one of the biggest and most experienced offensive lines in the MAC and in the nation. They have over 170 games of experience between the five of them and allowed just twelve sacks all last season.

On the ground Antario Brown will carry the load. The junior is NIU’s leading returning rusher and has amassed 1227 yards and a dozen touchdowns over the past two seasons. And, to top things off, he’s averaging over 6.4 yards per carry in his career.

Also getting in on the action this year will be Iowa transfer Gavin Williams and junior Kendrell Flowers. Williams, while at Iowa, ran for 471 yards on 116 carries and will look to make a quick impact on the Huskie offense. Flowers, a former Wake Forrest Demon Deacon and SC State Bulldog, also joined the Huskies this off-season. Over the past two seasons, he has amassed 1254 yards and 13 touchdowns to go with 35 receptions, 293 yards, and a pair of scores through the air as well. Justin Lynch, the former QB for the Huskies, will also play in the backfield this year. I expect we’ll see him take on more of a fullback role, like Clint Ratkovic played a few seasons ago.

While the run is the Huskies’ bread and butter, they are happy to have quarterback Rocky Lombardi back. The former Michigan State Spartan is playing in his final season for the Huskies and, after missing most of last season with an injury, he will look to recapture the magic he had in 2021. In his time in DeKalb, Lombardi has thrown for 3242 yards and 20 touchdowns while completing 60% of his throws and has run for ten touchdowns and 474 yards on 100 carries.

His main target will be Trayvon Rudolph, who also returns after missing all of last season with an injury. In his two seasons Rudolph, now a junior, has gained 1109 yards and scored seven times through the air AND added an additional 106 rushing yards with a touchdown, AND THEN has 1040 yards and another score on kick’s why he too was added to the Hornung Award watch list.

Behind Rudolph, Kacper Rutkiewicz, Davis Patterson, and Grayson Barnes will look to make an impact as well. Rutkiewicz led the team in TD receptions last season, with six, and was second on the team with 432 yards. Patterson, a 6-4 senior, played at James Madison before transferring to Notre Dame College in Ohio back in 2021. Over the past three seasons, he’s gained 760 yards and scored six TDs on 49 receptions. Barnes, at 6-5, is a giant and should be a great threat in the redzone. Last season at American River CC he caught 38 passes for 526 yards and had four TDs en route to receiving All-America honors.


Boston College

Louisville v Boston College Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

leads the Eagles defense up front and is quite possibly one of the best pass-rushers in the ACC. The Huskies will need their experienced line to counter him as much as possible in this one. Last year, in addition to his 61 total stops, he had an astounding 8.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss (both team-highs), four quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles, and two pass break ups. If he gets free, it could be a long game for NIU.

Shitta Sillah is a senior defensive end that has suffered from injuries the past few seasons but is expected to make a big impact now that he’s healthy. He has the potential to be just as effective as Ezeiruaku on the opposite side and, according to Ezeiruaku, he is a “freak athlete” with size and speed.

In the middle, Vinny DePalma returns for Boston College. The linebacker is playing in his sixth season now and led the team with 87 tackles last year. He also added seven TFL, three QBH, and had a forced fumble, fumble recover, and a sack. Kam Arnold is another linebacker the Huskies need to watch out for. Over the past two seasons, he has tallied 135 tackles and was second on the team last year, with 75 stops. Arnold was also tied for the lead in interceptions, with two, and had two pass break ups, three QBH, and 1.5 sacks.

Their secondary might take a step back this season as they lost their top three defensive backs from last season. However, Elijah Jones does return. In 2022 Jones earned an All-ACC honorable mention, as he played in 11 games and recorded 2 INTs, 13 pass break ups, 34 tackles, three TFL, and a sack.

Khari Johnson is an Arkansas transfer to watch out for as well. The former three-star recruit played in ten games for the Razorbacks last season and could be a force on the outside.

Northern Illinois

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 09 NIU at Western Michigan Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Huskies defense struggled in 2022, especially their secondary...which doesn’t bode well for them in this match up.

Up front the Huskies are solid, with James Ester, Davonte O’Malley, and Raishein Thomas all having started at least 21 games for NIU. Ester and O’Malley, the DTs, will look to improve on their numbers last year and have a chance as they go against a questionable offensive line here. Thomas, who led the team in TFL last year, with nine stops behind the line of scrimmage, will look to get an early bump on those numbers this season.

With BC having much more success through the air, the Huskies’ linebackers and DBs will need to step up.

Jaden Dolphin, Jordan Hansen, and Devin Lafayette returns at linebacker, while Keshon Artis should get some playing time as well.

Dolphin was fourth on the team in 2022 with 52 total tackles and added three QBH, two TFL, two pass break ups, and a forced fumble. Hansen had 21 tackles and fumble recovery last year but, in 2021, he was fifth on the team with 58 stops and added five pass break ups and three TFL. Last season Lafayette ranked sixth on the team in tackles, amassing 44 total stops, and added two TFLs, a pick, a forced fumble, a PBU, and had half a sack.

Artis, a transfer from Virginia Tech, played in 45 games for the Hokies and last year he had ten tackles, four solo, and added 1.5 TFL. He also aided in the VT win over this same BC squad and had a solo tackle in the victory.

The secondary last year was quite porous, allowing 252.8 yards per game (101st in the NCAA). However, they do have a lot of returning players that will hopefully have improved some with the experience from last season.

Safety C.J. Brown leads the way and led the team last season with 78 tackles. Joining him back there are Javaughn Byrd and Jashon Prophete at cornerback and Muhammed Jammeh as the other safety.

Byrd tallied 38 stops last season - eighth best on the team - and he also added three PBU, two TFL, and half a sack. Prophete saw action in all 14 games in 2021 and in seven games last season. He tallied 16 tackles, two TFL, two sacks, a QB hurry, and a pass break up last season and had 27 tackles and a PBU in 2021.

Jammeh played in eleven games, starting in six, for the Huskies last season. The sophomore amassed 25 tackles (eight solo) and had an interception and a pass break up but should improve upon those number this season.


The Eagles do have the superior defense and a very strong passing attack that could mean trouble for the Huskies. However, a weaker offensive line against this solid Huskie defensive front could mean a few turnovers and bad passes from Morehead.

The Huskies can keep this game close and might be able to squeak out a road win here if they can control the ball and the clock. The Huskies will need a strong run game to keep that clock rolling, and the ball moving.

But, now with Rocky and Rudolph both back, the passing attack will hopefully be revitalized.

Despite the solid Eagle defense and amazing pass rushers, I believe that NIU can keep up with BC on offense and, if they can hold on to the ball enough to keep Morehead and company off the field, they can pull this one out.

As always, there is a cautious optimism here. My heart says the Huskies win 31-24 but my brain isn’t as convinced.

NIU - 21
BC - 27