The Ohio Bobcats will travel west to DeKalb this Saturday to take on the Northern Illinois Huskies in what could be an early preview of the MAC Championship game, as both teams were the preseason favorites to win their divisions.
The match up will be the 22nd meeting all-time between the two with the Huskies clinging to a narrow 11-10 lead in the series. They haven’t met since 2015 when Ohio upset the Huskies 26-21 in DeKalb.
Date/Time: Saturday, Oct. 13th, 3:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m. CST)
Where: Huskie Stadium — DeKalb, Illinois
Odds: NIU is favored by 4 and has a 65.7% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI
Weather: Sunny but in the low-50s
Record: 3-2 (1-0 MAC)
Points per game: 36.8
Points allowed: 35.8
Yards per game: 455.4 (203.8 rushing, 251.6 passing)
Yards allowed: 508.8 (145.2 rushing, 363.6 passing)
Last week the Bobcats were able to avoid disaster and somehow came back in the fourth quarter to eke out a 27-26 win on the road against a struggling Kent State team.
Quarterback Nathan Rourke has been the spark behind the Ohio offense, as he has connected on just under 60% of his passes for 1025 yards and seven TDs while only tossing three interceptions. He also leads the team in rushing yards with 391 on 50 carries and has added three scores with legs as well.
When Rourke does throw the ball, Papi White is his go-to receiver. White leads the team with 27 catches, 481 yards, and four touchdowns. Cameron Odom and Andrew Meyer are the only other receivers to have 100+ yards on the year - Odom has 272 yards on 17 catches, while Meyer has 16 snags for 203 yards and both have just a single TD grab.
Shockingly, star running back, A.J. Ouellette, has not been nearly as effective on the ground for the Bobcats as many thought he would be. He’s only averaging 3.7 yards per carry and has just 306 yards in the first five games for Ohio but he does have four touchdowns. Maleek Irons, who missed last game and is questionable for this one, has been the more effect back, rushing for 299 yards and four touchdowns on his 45 carries.
Senior linebacker Even Croutch leads the Bobcat defense with his 38 tackles and 4.5 TFL. He also has an interception and three pass breakups. If it’s not him making tackles, look for a pair of safeties to be there - Javon Hagan and Kylan Nelson. Hagan is second with 35 tackles and leads the team with two picks while Nelson has 29 tackles, two TFL, a forced fumble, and leads the team with five breakups.
Record: 3-3 (3-0 MAC)
Points per game:17.7
Points allowed: 23.7
Yards per game: 278.3 (134 rushing, 144.3 passing)
Yards allowed: 355.7 (125.8 rushing, 229.8 passing)
NIU was able to hang on to the Bronze Stalk yet again as they upended Ball State 24-16 but, after pulling out to a 21-6 lead, they once again needed a defensive stand late in the game to seal the victory.
Marcus Childers allowed Ball State to get back in the game last week as he threw a interception that was returned 43 yards to the Huskie 4-yard line, which allowed the Cardinals to score their only touchdown.
It’s plays like that from Childers that has hindered the Huskie offense all season...one throw is spot on, the next is to the opponent...or no where near the receiver. He’s only completing 55.8% of his throws for 804 yards and eight scores but has five picks now on the season.
NIU only has two receivers that have accumulated any solid stats - D.J. Brown and Jauan Wesley. Brown leads them all with 32 catches, 299 yards, and three TDs. But Wesley is right behind him with 27 grabs for 258 yards and two scores. The next highest total is Cole Tucker, who has 12 receptions for just 81 yards.
These past two weeks the Huskies have finally started to get a ground game going, with Tre Harbison and Marcus Jones leading the way. Harbison now has 419 yards and has found the end zone three times on his 83 carries. Jones exploded last week for 130 yards on just 12 carries and now and passed Jordan Nettles for second on the team, with a total of 249 yards and a TD.
Sutton Smith went completely quiet against Ball State but the junior DE is still a force to be reckoned with. He leads the team with 10.5 TFL, five sacks, four QB Hurries, and two forced fumbles.
Linebacker Antonio Jones-Davis is continuing to have a great season. He leads the team with 66 tackles (which is 10th in the nation and 23 more than any other Huskie) and has six TFL, three sacks, five pass break ups, and a pair of forced fumbles.
Man, this is another game that could go either way.
It will come down to whether NIU’s defense can corral Nathan Rourke, like they were able to do with Riley Neal last week, and if they can score some points against the Bobcat defense that’s allowing five TDs and over 500 yards per contest.
The Huskie defense has been solid all season long and, for their 112th homecoming game, I’m sure they’ll be amped-up and roaring to go...especially with MAC title game hopes on the line.
I’ve said it the past three conference games, and I’ll say it again...it’s hard to pick against NIU in MAC games.
Ohio - 17
NIU - 20