As Yogi Berra once said “It's like déjà vu all over again.”
Just as it has been for six of the last seven years, here we are in early November and the MAC West is locked in a battle between the Toledo Rockets and the Northern Illinois Huskies.
Both teams come into the game with perfect conference records, at 4-0 in MAC play, which means the winner of this game will likely represent the West in the MAC Championship game.
When Toledo has the ball...
The Rockets are loaded with explosive play makers and can score in bunches.
On the ground Toledo has three players with more than 400 rushing yards. Terry Swanson has gotten the bulk of the carries and yardage, with 131 rushes for 728 yards and eight scores, but Shakif Seymour has been a solid second option, adding 467 and six TDs.
We all know how good Logan Woodside has been; 2295 yards, 63% completion rate, 19 touchdowns, and just two interceptions. He has a pair of targets that will make life hard on any defensive back - Diontae Johnson and Cody Thompson. Each has more than 500 yards (693 and 537) and combined for 12 scores. (Ed. Note: Cody Thompson will not be playing and is injured. Apologies for the error.)
But they go up against a Huskies defensive unit that has been the best in the MAC and one of the best in the country.
NIU is allowing just 18 points per game and 307 total yards per game. They are led by Sutton Smith, a newly appointed Bednarik Award Semifinalist, who leads the country in tackles for loss (20) and is second in sacks (9.5). As a whole, the Huskies are fifth in the NCAA in tackles for a loss with 69 on the season and have three players who have more than 10 TFL - Smith, Bobby Jones (11), and Jawuan Johnson (11).
The Huskies specialize in stopping the run, allowing a mere 106.1 yards per game on the ground and have only given up four rushing TDs in the first eight games played.
NIU’s defense also gets after QBs, netting 25 sacks so far. When they don’t bring down opposing quarterbacks, the secondary takes over. Of the 17 turnovers NIU has generated 13 have been interceptions.
This could be another instance of an unstoppable object meeting an immovable force.
When NIU has the ball...
Unlike the Rockets, the Huskies offense has been slightly bipolar this season...but they have done just enough to stay perfect in the MAC.
Quarterback Marcus Childers has complete 61.4% of his passes en route to 872 yards and nine touchdowns while only throwing a single interception. Plus his legs have been an added bonus, as he’s now second on the team in rushing with 329 yards and three touchdowns.
Childers has a fleet of five receivers, each of which has 225+ yards, which accounts for 88% of NIU’s receiving yards. The top three wide outs, Christian Blake, D.J. Brown, and Spencer Tears, are very even in receptions (32, 29, 29 respectively) and yardage (323, 325, 330) this year. Senior Chad Beebe is a close fourth with 296 yards. But the TD leader has been tight end Shane Wimann; he has really propelled the Huskies in the red zone, accounting for six TDs and 225 yards on 21 grabs.
The Toledo defense has been pretty stout themselves this season though, only allowing 364 yards (162 rushing and just 202 passing) and 25 points per game.
Against NIU’s mediocre offense, however, the defense doesn’t have to be amazing to stop them...just above average. This Rocket unit, is certainly that, ranking fourth in the MAC in total defense.
They’re led up front by defensive end Olasunkanmi Adeniyi who has 11 TFL, four sacks, six QB Hurries, and a forced fumble. But it’s been a total team effort for the Rockets defense.
Six players have 30+ tackles and, amazingly, twenty different players have a TFL. However, they struggle to get to the QB and only have ten sacks this season so far. Between the Huskies solid O-line and Childers ability to run, the Huskies should be able to keep Childers upright and plays alive.
How can Toledo fans not consider this game a rivalry yet?!
As usual, this game will be played between two stellar MAC squads and that should make for another great match up.
It’s an explosive offense taking on a monstrous defense. Can NIU’s pressure get to Woodside? Will Childers be able to move the ball against Adeniyi?
Tomorrow night we get to find out!
The game starts at 6 p.m. (5 p.m. CST) and can be seen on ESPNU. You don’t want to miss this MACtion.