Wouldn't you know it? The Northern Ilinnois Huskies are primed (with a win) to be the MAC West's representative in Detroit for the conference championship once again. Does anything change in DeKalb anymore? Any nice new restaurants? Ground-shaking developments in a field of scientific research?
I digress. The Huskies: winners of six straight, have taken the MAC West crown each of the last five seasons. All that has to happen for NIU to win a West title is for them to win. If Toledo loses to Western Michigan, NIU picks up the trip to Detroit regardless of a win or loss to Ohio. Once again, NIU controls its own destiny.
Last Year's Game
Ohio tested the visiting Huskies in a game about a year ago (Nov. 18, 2014), in which the Bobcats were tied up with Coach Rod Carey's squad 14-14 late in the contest. A Drew Hare touchdown pass to Chad Beebe sealed things in the Huskies' 21-14 win in Athens.
Play as of Late
As mentioned before, Northern Illinois has righted the ship after a shaky start to the MAC slate when it lost to Central Michigan 29-19. Since then all has been fine and dandy, even after the loss of Hare to an injury. Ryan Graham will get the start at quarterback once more. The freshman helped lead NIU to a victory when Hare was injured in the Toledo game, and led the team to wins against WMU and Buffalo. The wins against the Broncos and Rockets were both of the comeback variety. The frosh has chops.
Boomer Mays and Shawun Lurry have led the NIU defense. Mays has come on as of late with 15 tackles against WMU and 10 against Toledo. Lurry resides near the top of the country with 8 interceptions and is averaging 26.1 yards per return.
NIU has yet to score less than 27 points in a game since the loss and has averaged 42.2 points per game since the CMU game.
Ohio hit a rut that has become characteristic of the program in late October/November, but in a show of resistance has responded well, winning two consecutive games while running the ball effectively on the ground. The 'Cats combined for over 600 rushing yards in the Bowling Green and Kent State game and then put together a 607-yard game with JD Sprague as QB against Ball State. The 'Cats gobbled up 332 yards on the ground in that one. That 48-31 win was all about showcasing an improved and multi-faceted Ohio offense that wasn't there earlier in the season, even if it was against a none-too-great BSU defense.
Couple all this with a healthy Quentin Poling and Ohio could really spoil the Huskies' fun on Tuesday night.
Players to Watch
Quentin Poling- The sophomore Mr. Everything returned from a nagging injury to perform well at Kent State and continued looking good in last week's win against Ball State. His play against the NIU run game could make the difference between a loss and a win which would make this the best Ohio season in the last few years.
JD Sprague- Sprague has been decent enough in his starting role. With Derrius Vick plagued with injuries once more, the expectation will be for Sprague to lead the rushing attack while complemented by AJ Ouellette and Daz'mond Patterson. The two have started to succeed more frequently behind an offensive line that is getting its stuff together.
Ryan Graham- Graham has been decent in the pocket since the Hare injury. The frosh hasn't been asked to do too much and has mostly been able to rely on Joel Bouagnon and Jordan Huff for the team's offensive successes these past few weeks. All Graham has to do is stay away from mistakes and hook up with Kenny Golladay for a couple big plays to put NIU in a winning position against Ohio.
Boomer Mays- Stop the Ohio run game and NIU will probably win. Easier said than done as the Bobcats have hit their stride and are averaging 300+ on the ground over the last three weeks. Mays and the NIU defensive line will likely make the difference on senior night in DeKalb.