The Northern Illinois Huskies and the Ball State Cardinals have met 42 times coming in to this week. But neither team can claim bragging rights as the series is tied 20-20-2. However, since the Bronze Stalk was introduced back in 2008 the Huskies have dominated the series, winning the last six matches and keeping the trophy in DeKalb.
This week both teams look to get back to .500 on the year and the Huskies will try again to pick up their first conference win of the season. Our contributors, Dave Drury and Max DeVito, make their case here.
Dave: NIU has had Ball State's number for a while now. Do you guys even remember what the Bronze Stalk looks like?
Max: Hey now... You're right. It's been a tad rough as of late. It's been quite a while since Nate Davis & company were leading the way. Although you guys survived every matchup with Keith Wenning, I think we've now got a QB who can add a stir to the Huskies win streak. If we can score, we may get a chance to snag it from you.
Dave: Well...from what we've seen from NIU's offense the past few weeks, I feel the same way about this game. They haven't played well at all this season and so this game is the perfect time for them to break out!
Max: I'd love to see some points from this game. So it's three in a row down the drain for NIU. Offense? Defense? Other stuff? What's the issue?!
Dave: You know...I've been thinking about that a lot lately myself. Our defense is good but they sometimes don't look like it. My theory is that since offensively we haven't been able to do ANYTHING our defense is on the field too long or has to deal with a short field due to our offense turning the ball over. I think it's time to mix up the offensive play-calling honestly. NIU basically only uses four different plays...and it might have worked for a couple of years but teams have figured out how to defend those plays, so it's time for new ones.
What about Ball State though? You guys have played three top-25 teams already (now that Toledo is ranked) and most have been relatively close. Are you happy with what you're seeing over there?
Max: I think most Ball State fans could have predicted our current 2-3 (1-0) record. The Texas A&M game was it was supposed to be, and I actually think the Ball State offense surprised a few by putting up 23 points on the Aggies. I'm not mad at losses to Northwestern or Toledo. Either game could have been won but they're both really strong opponents. It was really nice to get a conference win at Eastern Michigan. The first five games have left me and other Ball State fans feeling hopeful heading into the rest of our MAC schedule.
Let's jump into the game, shall we? How do you think the Huskies are going to approach Ball State and what do you think they NIU game plan will look like come Saturday?
Dave: I think NIU will be angry entering the game. Losing three in a row, including our conference opener, should give the Huskies plenty of motivation to keep the Bronze Stalk.
I want to see our offense be really aggressive out there, getting Kenny Golladay into the game and not just running on first and second down. I know the Cardinals have done a decent job of stopping the pass, but as I said earlier, NIU has to try to mix things up to jump start their offense.
How do you see Ball State attacking Shawun Lurry and this Huskies defense?
Max: I'd love to see the Ball State offense spread the ball out, but I'm not sure that it'll happen. Our ground game has been most middle based with Darian Green and James Gilbert, and it hasn't been that bad at all. A nice dose of short passing to freshman Corey Lacanaria and other slot targets would be a nice way to get Riley Neal going. I've noticed that when Jordan Williams is Neal's primary read, our young QB gets tunnel vision and tends to force the ball to #8. I'd love to see the offense maybe throw in a jet-sweep or some trickery to get points on the board.
But I really like this matchup. I see that right now the line is sitting at NIU -10.5. Are you taking the Huskies and the spread? Are we going to be under or over the assigned 54.5?
Dave: As much as I love the Huskies, I'm just not sure what Huskie team will show up! Right now, I think Ball State will cover and I'm for sure taking the under. I think we could be in for a low scoring, very close game. But as NIU is at home...the Huskies still pull it off, 27-21.
How you betting this week?
Max: I'm actually going to bet in an almost identical fashion. I think the Ball State offense gets going (if it's not too predictable) and the Cardinals have a shot to win it late in the fourth. I think BSU covers the spread and either wins late or loses by just a few points. We'll have to see if Riley Neal has time to get the football where it needs to be. I'm picking the Cardinals on the road, 23-21.