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2018 MAC Football Game Preview: Northern Illinois Huskies at Ball State Cardinals

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This season’s Battle for the Bronze Stalk will end with one team keeping their perfect MAC record and getting to .500. But which one?

NCAA Football: Ball State at Northern Illinois Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Northern Illinois Huskies will embark on their third consecutive road game as they travel to Muncie, Indiana to take on the Ball State Cardinals in the Battle for the Bronze Stalk trophy this Saturday.

This weekend marks the 46th meeting between these conference foes, with the Huskies claiming a narrow 23-20-2 advantage over the Cardinals thanks to a current nine game winning streak against Ball State. The Cardinals last victory was back in 2008 and they’ll look to avenge the 63-17 drubbing they took last year.

It will also be the 11th game in which the Bronze Stalk Trophy will be awarded. Ball State won the trophy the first year it was awarded, in 2008, but hasn’t seen it stay in Muncie since.


Game Info

Date/Time: Saturday, Oct. 6th, 3 p.m. (2 p.m. CST)
Where: Scheumann Stadium — Muncie, Indiana
Watch: ESPN3
Odds: NIU is favored by 3 and has a 56.9% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI
Weather: Mid-80s with possible rain


The Huskies...

Quick Facts:
Record: 2-3 (2-0 MAC)
Points per game: 16.4
Yards per game: 260 (127.8 rushing, 132.2 passing)

NIU enters this game at after sneaking past Eastern Michigan in triple overtime last week, which improved their conference record to 2-0.

The Huskies offense has still been tough to watch, as they are barely moving the ball this year but, luckily for them, their defense has still played well enough to keep them in almost every game this season.

Quarterback Marcus Childers is now completing 54.6% of his passes and has netting 661 yards and has seven passing touchdowns. However, he has made some mistakes, throwing four interceptions, and a somewhat porous line has lead to him being under pressure a lot this season. Opponents have sacked him 13 times and hurried him another 13, leading to a very weak passing attack.

When he does throw the ball, his main...well his only targets really, have been D.J. Brown and Jauan Wesley. Both have 25 receptions and two scores. The duo even has nearly the same amount of yards - Brown has 250 yards while Wesley is right behind him at 235. Only one other Huskie, Cole Tucker, has more than five receptions and 32 receiving yards, as his 11 grabs and 70 yards put him third on team by far.

Tre Harbison has established himself as the go-to running back for the Huskies recently. After spliting time with Jordan Nettles the first few games, Haribison has started to get the bulk of the carries the past few games and now has 371 yards on 68 carries (5.5 yards/rush) but just a single touchdown - the game winner in 3OT last week.

Defensively everyone knows about Sutton Smith, a DE that wreaks havoc on offensive lineman. The junior has continued to get pressure on runners and quarterbacks and this season he has built up another nice resume - 24 tackles, 10.5 TFL, five sacks, two QB hurries, two forced fumbles, and a blocked punt.

But offenses also have to watch out for Antonio Jones-Davis. The linebacker leads the team with 50 tackles and has also added five TFL, five pass break ups, five QB hurries, two sacks, and has two fumble recoveries.


The Cardinals...

Quick Facts:
Record: 2-3 (1-0 MAC)
Points per game: 28
Yards per game: 471.8 (193.8 rushing, 278 passing)

The Cardinals put a beat down on Kent State last week, winning 52-24 and notching their first MAC win of the season.

BSU quarterback, Riley Neal, has played well. He’s connecting on 57.8% of his throws and amassed 1241 yards and eight touchdowns while throwing just three interceptions. He’s also run for 189 yards and two more touchdowns, making him the Cardinals’ second leading rusher.

Neal has three main targets - Riley Miller, Corey Lacanaria, and Justin Hall. Those three are the only Ball State players with more than ten receptions. Miller leads them all with 30 catches for 439 yards but only has one TD. Lacanaria has 27 grabs for 289 yards and is one of three players with two receiving scores while Hall is thrid with 22 receptions and 182 yards.

On the ground look for James Gilbert to get the majority of the carries. On the year he has 73 carries for 342 yards and four touchdowns. But he’s not the only rusher to worry about as three other Cardinals have 100+ yards on the season. Neal, as I mentioned earlier, is one of those but Caleb Huntley and Malik Dunner can also run well, as they have 178 and 129 yards respectively.

Defensively Jacob White leads the Cardinals. The junior linebacker has built up some very solid stats so far. He leads the team with 39 tackles and 5.5 TFL but also has two pass break ups, a sack, and recovered a fumble.

Christian Albright, another linebacker to fear, has also been a force to reckon with. He’s made 25 stops and has three TFL but leads the team in sacks (3) and forced fumbles (3).


Prediction

NIU will try to win their tenth straight game against Ball State. Both teams have had a nine-game win streak in the series (Ball State from 1974-82, NIU 2009-present) but no one has made it double digits...yet(?).

The Cardinals have played well this season and even almost upset Notre Dame a few weeks ago. NIU has done just enough to beat their MAC foes while playing a trio of P5 teams tough until the end.

This wont be an easy win for NIU this season as this is a different BSU team from the last few years. Ball State has only given up seven sacks and 24 TFL so, if NIU’s defense can’t get pressure on Neal and the rest of Cardinals, this might be the game that ends the Huskies’ win streak.

I see this as another toss up game that will come down to whether NIU’s defense can do enough to stop the Cardinals and make up for the lack of offense. And, as usual, I find it hard to bet against NIU in MAC games...they always seem to do just enough to win.

NIU - 24
Ball State - 21