After a sluggish performance against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the Northern Illinois Huskies are back home this Saturday where they’ll face off against a familiar foe, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.
The Huskies and Golden Hurricane both enter this meeting with identical 1-2 records and have both lost their last two games. Northern beat Boston College in overtime before falling to SIU and Nebraska; while Tulsa destroyed Arkansas-Pine Bluff before running into a pair of buzzsaws in (8)Washington and (19)Oklahoma. The Golden Hurricane were outscored in those two games by a combined 109-27.
- Time and date: Saturday, September 23rd, 2023 at 12 p.m. EST (11 a.m. CST)
- Network: CBSSN
- Location: Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, Illinois
- Gambling considerations: NIU is a 4-point favorite, with an over/under of 54.5
- All-time series: Tulsa leads the series 1-0
- Last meeting: Tulsa snuck past NIU, 38-35, in week 2 last year
Getting to know the Golden Hurricane
These teams might have met last season but this is nowhere near the same Tulsa team that we saw take the field down in Oklahoma last year. Nearly every statistical leader from last year is gone - including their starting quarterback, top two wide receivers, top two running backs, and top two tacklers from 2022.
They have used two quarterbacks in each of the first three games - Cardell Williams and Roman Fuller, and both have been pretty accurate, each completing 66.7% of their passes. Williams is 30-45 with 494 yards and has five touchdowns to three interceptions but has been sacked six times. Fuller has gone 20-30 on his throws for 121 yards and has two scores to three interceptions. They have also used Braylon Braxton a handful of times but he has not been too effective - completing just one of his four pass attempts with two interceptions and just nine yards.
Marquis Shoulders and Devan Williams have been the main targets for the Tulsa air attack. Each of them has hauled in eleven passes with Shoulders leading the team with 207 yards and three TDs while Williams has a touchdown and 148 yards.
Their ground game has been a three-pronged attack from Jordan Ford, Anthony Watkins, and Bill Jackson. But, while the team has gained over 500 yards on the ground, they have just two rushing touchdowns. Ford leads the team 43 carries, 187 yards, and one of those two rushing scores with Watkins following close behind at 35 carries and 152 yards. Jackson only has 27 rushes but he has made the most of them, averaging a team-high 5.5 yards per carry and netting 149 yards.
On defense, safety Kendarin Ray will be a familiar face for the Huskies. He leads the team in tackles, with 28, and also has 1.5 tackles for loss. He also had three stops in last year’s contest. Fellow defensive backs, Kanion Williams and Tyree Carlisle have also had solid seasons. They each have an interception and a pass break up with Williams netting 16 stops and Carlisle bringing down the ball carrier eleven times.
Up front Ben Kopenski and Owen Ostroski have been solid - Tulsa has four sacks with Kopenski and Ostroski netting 3.5 of those. Kopenski has 12 total stops with 2.5 TFL, two sacks, and a QBH while Ostroski has ten tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and a QBH.
Getting to know the Huskies
We’re still getting to know the Huskies ourselves here after three weeks. And it has not been what we all expected.
Huskie fans everywhere thought that with quarterback Rocky Lombardi and wide out Trayvon Rudolph back to go with their usually powerful run game that NIU would be putting up crazy offensive numbers...but that has not been the case. The offense has been sluggish to say the least. Rocky has been inefficient and, at times, wild with his throws and the run game has been nearly non-existent despite one of the best offensive lines in the MAC.
So far Lombardi is completing just 50% of his throws (47-94) and has four interceptions to just one touchdown to go with his 535 yards. He has had plenty of open receivers but has either overthrown them, under-thrown them, or instead thrown into coverage resulting in a turnover or incompletion. He’s still a solid leader and has done well when at the helm for NIU but it sure looks like he has regressed rather than progressed this off season.
Kacper Rutkiewicz has been the go-to guy over Trayvon Rudolph so far. Rutkiewicz leads the team with 13 catches, 192 yards, and a TD. Tight end Chris Carter has been a bright spot as well this season, snagging seven passes for 112 yards and a TD. No other Huskie has more than 55 receiving yards - with Rudolph only having five catches for 34 yards so far.
On the ground, Antario Brown and Gavin Williams have not had much room to work with. Brown has just 130 yards and one score on his 46 attempts (2.8/rush), while Williams has 85 yards on his 21 rushes (4.0/rush).
NIU is averaging just 85 rushing yards per game. You know the last time the Huskies averaged under 100 yards per game on the ground? NEVER. Since joining the FBS level in 1968, the Huskies have NEVER averaged under 100 yards rushing per game...the closest they ever came was in 1984, when they finished with 101.9 yards per game.
The good news is the defense has improved a lot this season. In the first two quarters, NIU only allowed a combined 21 points. But being on the field so much, and being put in tight spots due to turnovers, has allowed teams to bump their scores in the second half; as teams have scored 21 points in the third and 28 in the fourth against the Huskies.
Safety Nate Valcarcel leads the team with 16 total stops and also has a tackle for loss, while Huskie position players Jordan Hansen and Devin Lafayette have tallied a combined 26 tackles with Hansen adding a sack.
Linebackers DaRon Gilbert and Jaden Dolphin have also been all over the field, combining for 28 total stops.
Up front the former TE turned DE, George Gumbs Jr., has crushed it. He has eight total stops, a forced fumble, and leads the team with 2.5 sacks and 2.5 TFL. Fellow d-lineman Raishein Thomas has 15 tackles and is tied with Gumbs for the TFL lead, with 2.5 of his own, but has also added a sack, a pass break up, and three quarterback hurries.