Kent State (1-4, 0-1 MAC) is coming off 27-13 loss to Buffalo, and has really struggled to put up points against opponents. They’ve scored more than 14 points just once all season, a 38-31 win against FCS foe Howard.
The Huskies (2-2, 0-0 MAC) kick off their MAC season this weekend after a very solid showing in their non-conference games. NIU’s offense has moved the ball rather well lately and their defense has been outstanding, which is not good news for the Flashes.
Kent State’s offense has been somewhat lacking (to put it nicely) this year but, when your starting QB and your backup QB both find themselves on the injury report seasonb-ending injuries and you play two top-20 teams, that can happen.
The Flashes are averaging just 11.4 points per game and netting just about 275 total yards per contest (164 yards rushing and 111 yards passing on average), which is a full 100 yards less than NIU is averaging per game.
Quarterback Nick Holley has been out for nearly three games now and he’s still the teams leading rusher by a good margin, which is a cause for concern for Kent State fans.
KSU has relied in the running game, running the ball a whopping 235 times thus far this season, rushing for 818 yards and three touchdowns. The Flashes have six players with 25 or more carries. Justin Rankin (136 yards), Will Matthews (110 yards) and Kesean Gamble (93 yards) get the bulk of the load in this running back by committee set-up.
The three quarterbacks the Flashes have played have only attempted a combined 74 passes through the first five games, completing half of those attempts for 554 yards and have three touchdowns and three interceptions. Look for George Bollas to start the game for KSU, whith Dustin Crum potentially getting a few touches.
For Northern Illinois, at the time of writing this, there is a very small chance that we could see Ryan Graham again, as he will start throwing again this week, but head coach Rod Carey said it’s most likely that Daniel Santacaterina will get his fourth consecutive start.
“Santa” has does well this year in relief of Graham, completing 65.6% of pass attempts for 642 yards and six scores. He has thrown four interceptions, but three of those came last week against the Aztecs. Santacaterina has been very consistent and has commanded the offense really well, even if the numbers don’t quite show it on the stat sheet. His deep accuracy is surprisingly good but he’s not afraid to check down if there’s nothing there.
Christian Blake and Spencer Tears have been the favorite targets for Santacaterina so far, with each of them having 14 or more catches this season. Blake leads all receivers with 20 grabs for 254 yards and three scores. Tears, who is second in receiving yards, is right behind Blake with 192 yards and two touchdowns.
The ground attack for NIU looks like it’s back on track. Jordan Huff has really broken out the past few weeks, racking up back-to-back 100+ yard games, bringing his yardage total to 341 yards over the past three games, good enough to average 6.56 yards per carry in that span.
KSU’s defense is allowing almost 500 yards and 35 points per game, but that’s understandable, given the level of comeptition the Flashes played in the out-of-conference schedule.
They are giving up more than 223 rushing yards (5.7/carry) and 255 passing yards per game. But this is a defense that works by committee. KSU has six players with 20+ tackles and four that have 30 or more.
Cornerback Demetrius Monday has had an amazing season so far, netting 13 tackles and leading the team with four interceptions, while also breaking up three passes. Fellow defensive back Jamal Parker leads the team with 39 tackles (27 solo) and six pass break-ups.
Up front, Kent State doesn’t generate too much pressure, sacking the quarterback just three times and stopping opponents behind the line just 21 times. But linebacker James Alexander has been the best at doing so for the Flashes; He has four tackles-for-loss, a sack, and two quarterback hurries this season
The Huskies’ defense has been the surprise of the season.
However, it was just reported that NIU will lose sophomore linebacker Kyle Pugh for the rest of the season with a torn bicep. Pugh is currently the second leading tackler with 35 tackles, a tackle-for-loss, an interception, a pass break-up, and two quarterback hurries.
This coincides with the suspension of fellow Huskie linebacker Antonio Jones-Davis after poking the eyes of San Diego State running back Raashad Penny last Saturday, causing some concern in regards to the depth of the linebacker spot for the upcoming matchup.
NIU is allowing just 293 total yards per game (188 passing yards and 105 rushing yards on average). The run defense has been stout, only allowing 2.5 yards per carry, which is not a good sign for this KSU offense that relies heavily on the run game.
Sutton Smith has had a breakout year so far. Of his 18 tackles, 10.5 have been behind the line of scrimmage and four have been sacks. He alone is responsible for offenses losing a combined 88 yards. Plus he has two pass break-ups and has forced and recovered a fumble.
And if you think passing against the Huskies will go any better, the stats would say you’d be wrong. NIU’s defense has six interceptions, 18 pass break-ups, and seven quarterback hurries so far in the young season.
Kent State could be in for a long day come Saturday.
Where: Huskie Stadium (DeKalb, Illinois)
When: Sat., Oct. 7th at 3:30 PM EST (2:30 CST)
Weather: Mid 60’s with rain throughout the day. Winds around 20 miles per hour.
TV: ESPN3, ESPN3, WatchESPN and the ESPN App. Check your local cable provider for more information.
Line: NIU is favored by 23.5 points.