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Northern Illinois Huskies vs. Toledo Rockets football preview: Talkin' sMACk!

Can the Huskies win their sixth straight against the unbeaten Rockets?

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

This Tuesday night the Northern Illinois Huskies will take on the only undefeated MAC team, the Toledo Rockets. As this is a nationally televised game between two of the MAC's powerhouses, the game is sure to attract a lot of attention. You can catch it Tuesday, November 3rd on ESPN2 at 8:00 p.m. (7 CST).

But before the game is even played, we thought it might be fun to take a Huskie fan (Dave Drury, @ddrury86) and a Toledo fan (Justin Kruse, @coilswell), throw them into a room, and lock the door. Inside, they were left to hash it out. Here's what the what they had to say.


Dave: Well Justin, the Huskies and Rockets always seem to be atop the MAC West with this game determining the winner...and NIU has finally made this series competitive the past decade or so. But I still feel like the Rockets don't have the same animosity towards the Huskies as we do towards Toledo. Huskie fans HATE the Rockets. What's the mood like in Toledo the week of the NIU game? And do you consider us rival?

Justin: The Huskies have definitely become a rival for Toledo and their fans. It's no where near the hatred or disgust that exists between UT and BG, but NIU is absolutely a rival.

Dave: I've always said we need a good nickname and a solid trophy idea for this game. I'm partial to either "The Battle for the Rocket Dog" (the trophy being a Husky with a Rocket pack on its back) or, to incorporate DeKalb and Toledo's storied histories, "The Battle of Barbed Glass" (the trophy being a large glass sculpture with barbed wire wrapped around it). Thoughts?

Justin: A trophy, now there is an idea! This is the generation of every kid gets a ribbon and we don't keep score in little league so we might as well have a trophy for all these college football games too!

I love the barbed glass idea. Currently Toledo and BG play for what looks like a roadside sign in the "Battle of I-75" so something a little more fierce is needed for this game! Maybe it should just be shards of glass and barbed wire intermixed in a bloody brown bag. That will certainly set a tone of hate and violence for a rivalry game (and who doesn't enjoy that!).

Dave: Personally, I love that idea too! At the end of each game, the losing team then has to reach their hands into the bag and grab a big ol' handful of shards. Now that's how you end a rivalry game!

Justin: The problem right now is that NIU has dominated the series of late and, in winning five straight games, has really ripped the heart out of the Rockets on multiple occasions. I firmly believe the "this is our year" mentality Toledo fans have...but the optimism is cautious. Plus, let's be real. Toledo was in the game last year with their 4th string QB/WR and this is not the NIU teams of seasons past. I mean the Huskie faithful can't honestly believe Rod Carey keeps this thing moving like it has the last five plus seasons, can they?

Dave: Well...yes we kind of do think that. You may be cautiously optimistic about this game but the Huskies faithful have been living with cautious optimism for the past two seasons. Carey, for us, is a bit of a mixed bag. Some days he has NIU playing like they should (i.e. Ohio State, Ball State) and then other days the offense is just terrible (i.e Boston College, CMU)...and that's just examples from this season! I think NIU has the talent to win every just depends what team shows up.

Besides, Toledo hasn't been THAT good this year. Sure you beat Arkansas...but you barely beat Ball State, were struggling against UMass, and have had a weaker schedule than the Huskies so far.

Justin: I beg your pardon??? I mean with all due respect...and I said WITH ALL DUE RESPECT... but NIU is bringing a 5-3 record to the Glass Bowl (and one of those wins was over FCS Murray State!). In your 4 precious wins against FBS opponents, those teams have won a whopping 5 games! That is right Mr. Drury, 5 games. You have beaten UNLV (who is best known for having a coach that used to coach Snoop's son), then the murderers row of EMU, Ball State and Miami.

If you want to accuse the Rockets of not having a true signature win against a top 25 type opponent, I may concede you that. But being competitive against an Ohio State team that was still throwing my man Cardale Jones out there hardly proves anything about the true ability of the Huskies in 2015.

So since it is a given that NIU will not be able to stop the Rockets' offensive attack and the weather looks great on Tuesday (as it always is in November in the 419), what tricks/magic/cons/ploys/bamboozles will the Huskies have to put in play to stay competitive in front of a raucous Glass Bowl crowd (that may or may not leave at half time to go to bed or check local elections results)?

Dave: We don't need tricks..and there certainly won't be any bamboozles! That crowd won't be raucous for too long. You may have forgotten NIU has Shawun Lurry on defense. Perhaps you know him better as the NCAA's leader in interceptions and INT returns yards...oh, and Phillip Ely has been known to throw picks. What was it, three last week against a UMass (who's passing defense is ranked 110th in the NCAA)?

Speaking of Ely, Drew Hare has been better the better QB between the two. Hare has more yards (1817 vs. 1734), less picks (3 vs. 7), a better completion percentage (64.3% vs. 55.3%), and a higher raw QBR (58.8 vs. 52) and adjusted QBR (54.3 vs. 46.8) than Ely.

And before you think it's because NIU has played an easy schedule, I'll remind you that the Huskies have played against three top-25 defenses including the second best defense (Boston College) and 13th best defense (Ohio State). Kent State is statistically the best defense you've sad for your offense.

Justin: Ummmm...I was told there would be no math. Dave, you are correct in that Ely has been at times shaky but in the comeback against UMass (that is probably not a phrase a team that is ranked in the top-25 should ever utter btw), Ely was very sharp in the second half and his receivers, namely Alonzo Russell, stepped up and made some big plays. I believe this is the game we see more of Kareem Hunt than in previous weeks. Toledo will need Hunt for their November stretch run. And, while Terry Swanson and Damion Jone-Moore have been excellent in relief of Hunt, this is a big boy game and you need to lean on your stars.

Dave: There's always math with me! And I agree that you need to lean on your stars. So I'm hoping the Huskies come out strong and use Joel Bouagnon and Jordan Huff to establish a run game, while also getting the ball in space to Kenny Golladay through the air.

NIU needs to win this game if they want to make it six straight MAC West titles...and I would love to see the Huskies do that.

Justin: So with all that said: the Huskies 5 game winning streak versus Toledo, the Rocket's top-25 ranking, a leg up in the West Division, and a national TV audience on election you care to offer a prediction, young leader of the Huskies hype train?

Because if you don't, well, then I will. Toledo wins 31-23 and the Rockets shake off the demons of seasons past and vanquish the evil dogs back to DeKalb!

Dave: Despite all the smack I've been throwing at ya, this rivalry game always makes me very nervous. I'll throw out two predictions because I'm not sure which Huskie team will show up.

Prediction 1 (the one I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY want to happen): The strong Huskie team shows up. Hare completes 80% of his passes and Bouagnon rushes for 150 yards and two scores, leading the Huskies to a 45-38 win.

Prediction 2: The other NIU team shows up and the Huskies can't move the ball. Ely does just enough to put the game away late. Toledo 31-17.