The Northern Illinois Huskies will play host to the Murray State Racers this Saturday with kickoff set for 3:30 p.m. (2:30 CST). This is just the second meeting between the two schools with NIU winning the only other match up 47-7 back in 1990.
The season might not have opened quite as smoothly as the Huskies would have liked but, for the second straight year, they managed to survived a scare from UNLV; beating the Rebels 38-30 last Saturday. Early on the Huskies struggled on both sides of the ball but gained their composure late in the first half and ended up having a pretty decent game, especially offensively.
Murray State didn't struggle at all. The Racers torched Kentucky Wesleyan (a Division II school) for 578 yards en route to a 52-12 blowout. Last season they faced the WMU Broncos and lost 45-14, but the Racers have been doing a solid job of getting transfers. In fact, they have players from Memphis, Ole Miss, Louisville, Kentucky, Marshall, and Auburn! So don't expect this to be the same team the Broncos saw last year.
The Racers' spread offense is led by junior quarterback KD Humphries, who threw for 385 yards and five touchdowns last week. A season ago, Humphries completed 67% of his passes on his way to 27 TDs and just under 3500 yards. His favorite target has not changed.
Last season Jeremy Harness led the team in receptions and nothing has changed this year. In week one Harness had seven snags for 153 yards and three touchdowns, meaning the Huskies' secondary needs to key in on him. But Paul Rice is another target that NIU will need to focus on, as he had five grabs for 73 yards and scored as well.
Running the football for Murray State is a former Kent State player - Roman Clay. While Clay didn't get on the field much as a Golden Flash, he has made a quick impact for Murray State. Last week he was their leading rusher, with 96 yards and TD on 17 carries. Right behind him was Nick Taylor. Taylor might be listed as a wide receiver but he runs the ball a lot more than he catches it. The sophomore only has four career catches, where as last week alone he ran the ball 14 times for 72 yards and a had a touchdown.
Defensively the Racers are decent at best. While they only allowed 12 points last week, the Huskies are in a completely different league then Kentucky Wesleyan.
Senior defensive end Zach Dean had himself a monster game last week. He led the team with nine tackles and also had 4.5 TFL, two sacks, and two QB Hurries. But much like last year, Murray State couldn't generate any turnovers. Don't expect them to get too many this week either, as the Huskies have been very good at limiting their mistakes over the past few seasons.
And as for that Huskie offense...
NIU found it's rhythm late in the first half and didn't look back. When the dust had settled, the Huskies had gained 545 yards but, in a surprise twist...the vast majority of those yards came through the air!
NIU's quarterback, Drew Hare, completed over 80% of his passes (21-26) and threw for 360 yards and two touchdowns. His 360 yards ranks him seventh in the NCAA. And he's not the only NIU player to be ranked in the top-10.
Joel Bouagnon is ranked ninth in rushing yards, as he amassed 152 on 21 touches with three scores. But it's a wide receiver that takes the top spot: Kenny Golladay had a huge day! His nine grabs for 213 yards made him the nations top receiver after week one.
But it wasn't all good. NIU was slated to get both Tommylee Lewis and Keith Harris Jr. back after they missed most of last year with injuries...but their reemergence was short lived, as BOTH once again left early on with leg injuries. Hopefully neither is too serious and they'll be back shortly but, so far, no word on the extent of either injury.
Defensively NIU struggled as well, allowing 493 yards (329 passing, 164 rushing) and letting UNLV convert on nearly half of their third-downs (8-18).
Boomer Mays led the defense with 13 tackles (10 solo) but freshman Renard Cheren was the biggest surprise. Cheren had nine tackles in his debut at linebacker and, if he can continue that kind of play, losing Rasheen Lemon won't be too big of a hit.
The Huskies offense should handle the Racers defense, but there are two concerns here. First, the secondary (and defense in general) needs to play better, as the Racers are another team that can move the ball pretty well. And secondly, NIU can not get caught in a trap game here. With the game against Ohio State lingering next week, NIU needs to stay focused on this game and not let the Racers sneak up on them.
This game should be a relatively easy win for NIU. Yes, the secondary needs to step it up...as does the defense in general. But offensively, the Huskies have more than enough firepower to put up a lot of points against Murray State's defense.
You can catch the game streaming live on ESPN3 this Saturday, September 12, at 3:30 p.m. (2:30 CST).