The Northern Illinois Huskies, who looked solid last week against Presbyterian, have a much bigger test this week when they take a short road trip up to Evanston to take on the Northwestern Wildcats. It will be the eighth meeting between these two teams, with Northwestern holding a slight edge. The Huskies are 0-6-1 all time against Northwestern, with their one tie coming in 1987.
The Wildcats have played well against the MAC the past decade, winning their last ten games against MAC opponents - including a 38-37 victory against NIU in 2005. However, NIU has fared well against B1G opponents recently, winning four of their last seven (including two last season), and have won 15 consecutive road games (most in the NCAA).
Last week against California, the Wildcats had trouble defending the pass, giving up 300 passing yards and just under eight yards per attempt through the air. The Wildcats' secondary seemed slow and sluggish early on. However, and unfortunately for NIU, the Wildcats smothered Cal's running game - allowing just 114 yards on 45 attempts (2.5 yards/carry).
The Huskies, who rely on their rushing attack (they tailied 424 rushing yards last week) will need to find a way to break through that stingy defensive line. Akeem Daniels and Joel Bouagnon led the way for NIU, combining for 215 yards on 31 carries and four scores (all from Bouagnon). The speed of Daniels, mixed with Bouagnon's power, should be a nice mix and make life a little tougher on the Cats' defense.
Last week we saw a rotation of quarterbacks for the Huskies, with Matt McIntosh and Drew Hare both playing well. But Tuesday it was announced McIntosh will be the starter going forward. NIU bullied the Blue Hose to the tune of 635 total yards. As mentioned earlier, 424 were on the ground, but NIU also went 19 of 32 passing for 211 yards between the trio of QBs.
Trevor Siemian, the Wildcat quarterback, didn't play too well last week, completing just 23 of 44 passes for 229 yards with a touchdown and two picks. He did spread the ball around well, with 10 different receivers catching a pass, and he even caught a 17-yard touchdown pass. Tony Jones, who is one of the five key players we highlighted back in July, led the team with 64 receiving yards on seven grabs.
The Wildcats only managed three yards per carry last week, running the ball 36 times for 108 yards, with Justin Jackson leading the way with 40 yards on eight carries. Treyvon Green struggled as well, going for 37 yards on 13 tries.
NIU's defense eliminated the Blue Hose's offense last week, allowing just 127 total yards and forcing three turnovers. This week I doubt it will be as effective. Northwestern should score, as they have the weapons on offense.
That being said, this is a winnable game for NIU. In fact, according to ESPN's Football Power Index the Huskies have a 52.3% chance of winning. The key to this game will be NIU's offense. The Huskies will need to find a way to exploit the porous secondary the Wildcats have. And with Tommylee Lewis and Da'Ron Brown being speedsters, it can be done. But NIU has an unproven passing attack and will probably rely on running the ball. If the Cats' stop NIU up front, it could be a very long game. But if McIntosh can find a rhythm passing, it will take pressure off the running game, allowing for a much better attack.
Original prediction: NIU wins 28-24
Actually, I'm not changing it too much.