Beware the trap game.
Coming off a win over an in-state foe and B1G team and an SEC opponent lurking on the horizon, the Northern Illinois Huskies head to the desert to take on the UNLV Rebels on Saturday night at 6 P.M. Central.
The Huskies roll into The Strip with a dismantling of Presbyterian and a second-half surge over Northwestern under their belt, as well as the longest current road winning streak in the FBS (16). UNLV is the second of three straight non-conference road games, with Arkansas wrapping up the show next week.
Drew Hare was the obvious choice to start under center/in shotgun this week, and that was confirmed Tuesday by head coach Rod Carey. Hare started the second half against Northwestern and put the Huskies' offense on track, throwing for a pair of touchdowns and rushing for another. Barring the unforeseen (which we shouldn't put past Carey), it's Hare's game on Saturday. More on this in a bit.
Returning from a mystery injury three weeks early, running back Cameron Stingily will see an increased workload in Vegas. He carried the ball six times for 46 yards against Northwestern, averaging nearly eight yards per carry.
Defensively, NIU picked up an interception and five sacks against the Wildcats, and linebacker Rasheen Lemon was named the MAC West Defensive Player Of The Week. Lemon picked up two of those five sacks and a career-high nine tackles.
This season, UNLV is 1-1 with a blowout loss to Arizona and a narrow win over Northern Colorado. The Rebels' running game led by George Naufahu racked up 211 yards over the Bears, which helped overcome four UNLV turnovers. Quarterback Blake Decker threw three interceptions on Saturday in his second ever start in FBS.
NIU has not seen UNLV since 1995, and not much about the program has changed since that last meeting (a 62-14 win for NIU). The Rebels have just two winning seasons since 1995, one of which came last season, resulting in a 36-14 loss to North Texas in the Heart Of Dallas Bowl. This matchup is the first of a home-and-home set that was announced last year. These two will open next season in DeKalb on September 5th.
Aside from UNLV being an uncommon opponent, NIU's biggest challenge may come from Mother Nature. In case you have not journeyed to Las Vegas recently... it tends to get toasty. It will be Saturday for a 4 P.M. local kickoff. The layout of Sam Boyd Stadium will place the NIU bench square in the sunlight for the duration of the game. While the Huskies may be the better club talent-wise on Saturday, the environment will certainly test NIU's conditioning and depth. Expect a healthy rotation of Stingily, Daniels and Joel Bouagnon in the backfield to keep that machine well-oiled through four quarters.
The heat is also why I won't write off the possibility of seeing more than just Drew Hare at quarterback. Taking out the potential of Hare being ineffective, it is a tall task to ask someone to make their first career start on the road in blazing heat. Is Hare ready for sixty minutes of football in the mid-90's? We'll see, but a series or two for Anthony Maddie wouldn't shock me.
NIU enters this game as heavy favorites, which brings us back to the first line of this preview. Beware the trap game. Beating Northwestern last week. Arkansas looming next week. This is, by definition, a trap game for NIU. And if the Huskies take too long to find their offense for another week, the heat may prevent them from finding it at all.