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2017 Week 11 Preview: Ball State Cardinals vs. NIU Huskies

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Will the Bronze Stalk stay in DeKalb for another year?

NCAA Football: Eastern Michigan at Northern Illinois Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Ball State Cardinals head to DeKalb to take on the Northern Illinois Huskies in the Battle for the Bronze Stalk which, since its inception in 2008, has been a lop-sided battle.

Ball State won the inaugural year the trophy was awarded but has since fallen eight straight times to the Huskies, who have held the trophy safely since 2009. The Huskies have won 15 of the last 18 meeting and also hold the all-time record in the series, although narrowly; leading 22-20-2 all time.

BSU (2-7) comes into this game looking for it’s first MAC win of the season, as they’re 0-5 and have lost their conference games by an average of 42 points! Saying it’s a down season for the Cardinals would be an understatement.

NIU (6-3), meanwhile, enters the game 4-1 in the MAC with their lone loss coming last week to Toledo, a game in which their usually stout defense allowed 27 points and 527 yards to the Rockets.

The Offenses:

BSU: The Cardinal offense started the season decently but has really fallen off since starting conference play and as injuries have started to pile up (which includes their talented QB Riley Neal). BSU hasn’t scored above 20 points since September 24th and has been held to single digits three times this year. They are 109th (out of 130) in total yardage, averaging a mere 340 yards per game.

Ball State’s quarterback position has been a spinning wheel of players which has landed on Drew Plitt the past two weeks. Plitt, a freshman, has completed just 47.3% of his passes for 266 yards and a pair of scores. But, despite the low completion percentage, he hasn’t turned the ball over nearly as much as the other two main starters. Plitt has thrown a single interception while Jack Milas has thrown six picks (and zero touchdowns) and Neal had three picks.

Justin Hall has been the main target for the QBs, as he leads the team in receptions (57) and yardage (605) and is second on the team with two touchdowns. When Hall isn’t the target, which is rare, there are five other players with 100+ yards but only two have more than 20 grabs, Riley Miller (24) and Nolan Givan (23).

On the ground Caleb Huntley gets the bulk of the work, running for 633 yards on 137 attempts, but it’s Malik Dunner that leads in touchdowns. Dunner has found the end zone five times while Huntley and James Gilbert each have three scores.

NIU: Unlike last season (and Ball State this year), NIU has been able to keep a quarterback up-right and playing...but it’s still a mystery each week as to whether they’ll be able to move the ball or not.

Jordan Huff hasn’t played the past few weeks and is questionable again for Thursday’s game yet he still leads all Huskie players in rushing yards; 450 on 85 carries. But NIU has a great rotation behind him that includes Tommy Mister, Marcus Jones, and Tre Harbison...although they have been vastly under-utilized. Combined, the three have just 119 attempts but have gained 591 yards and scored five times.

Quarterback Marcus Childers has been consistent, if nothing else for NIU. He’s completed just under 60% of his passes for 1107 yards with a decent 9:3 touchdown/interception ratio. Plus, on the ground he’s added 378 yards and four more TDs.

Childers spreads the wealth around, as five receivers have 23+ receptions and at least 250 yards. Spencer Tears (32 catches, 393 yards), Chad Beebe (23, 354), Christian Blake (31, 351), D.J. Brown (35, 333) are all threats to get the ball on any play and have very even totals. Shane Wimann is right behind them with 27 catches for 262 yards.

The Defenses:

BSU: The Cardinals defense has not done well as of late, allowing 420 yards per game and 40 points per game (including giving up 55+ points in three of the last four games).

However, there has been one bright spot all season - Anthony Winbush. The senior defensive end has caused a bunch of havoc in the backfield and leads the nation in sacks with 10.5 (but a couple other MAC players are right behind him...including one a few paragraphs below). Winbush has amassed 39 tackles this year, including those 10.5 sacks and an additional 14.5 tackles for loss, and has also forced FIVE fumbles.

Outside of Winbush’s accomplishments, Ball State has really struggled on defense. They are last in the MAC in scoring defense, pass defense efficiency, and turnover margin.

NIU: The Huskie defense, however, has been one of the best units in the MAC and the entire country.

NIU leads the MAC in total defense, rush defense, interceptions, sacks, first downs allowed (just giving up 16 first downs per game), and third down conversions (opponents convert on third down just 26.2% of the time, 5th best in the NCAA).

Sutton Smith has spearheaded this unit, although the last few weeks he has been quiet. Smith is third in the country with 9.5 sacks (CMU’s Joe Ostman has 10 and divides Smith and Winbush) but leads the nation in TFLs with a whopping 20 (an NIU record)!

The run defense has been amazing, giving up just 2.9 yards per carry and just 113 yards per game. However, you can beat them through the air as the secondary has given up a lot of yardage as of late.

But be careful because, as I said, NIU also leads the MAC in picks with 13 (which is also seventh in the NCAA). Their secondary is full of ball hawks that can make opposing quarterbacks pay.

Game Info:

When: Thursday, November 9th, 7 p.m. (6 p.m. CST)

Where: Huskie Stadium — DeKalb, IL

Network: CBS Sports Network

Spread: NIU -32 (wow!)

ESPN FPI Predictor: NIU has a 97.4% chance to win

All-time: NIU 22-20-2; At NIU: BSU leads 11-10-2