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2018 MAC Football Game Preview: Northern Illinois Huskies at Akron Zips

Akron looks for their third conference win while the Huskies will look to stay perfect in the MAC

NCAA Football: Northern Illinois at Brigham Young Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

The Northern Illinois Huskies will head out east to take on the Akron Zips, as both teams will play on just five days rest. Akron and NIU are both coming off wins, with the Zips edging out CMU and NIU upsetting BYU last weekend.

These two teams don’t meet up often, with this being just the 15th meeting all-time and the first since 2013. The Huskies hold a 9-5 lead in the series and have won the last four contests.


Game Info

Date/Time: Thursday, Nov. 1st, 7 p.m. (6 p.m. CST)
Where: InfoCision Stadium — Akron, OH (30,000 capacity)
Watch: CBS Sports Network
Odds: NIU is favored by 6.5 and has a 64.4% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI
Weather: Rain showers and in the mid-to-high 40s


The Huskies...

Quick Facts:
Record: 5-3 (4-0 MAC)
Points per game: 17.1
Points allowed: 21.1
Yards per game: 284.3 (151.3 rushing, 133.0 passing)
Yards allowed: 344.6 (111.8 rushing, 232.8 passing)

The Huskies, who have now won four straight games after a 1-3 start, sit atop the MAC West and is one of two undefeated teams in conference plays.

Quarterback Marcus Childers has played improved football as of late, although his passing numbers are still not where NIU fans would like to see them. He is now connecting on 54.5% of his passes and has thrown for 1064 yards and eight touchdowns while tossing five interceptions. He’s also gained 208 yards on the ground (169 of which came against Ohio on October 13th) and has added a team-high three rushing touchdowns.

Childers looks primarily to D.J. Brown and Jauan Wesley when he throws the ball. Wesley leads the team with 389 yards on 37 catches and has two scores. But Brown is right behind him; he also has 37 grabs but for 334 yards and three TDs. No other receiver has more than 98 yards or 13 catches.

On the ground, Tre Harbison has been picking up steam lately. He now has 496 yards and three scores and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Marcus Jones has now surpassed Jordan Nettles and Childers for second on the team with 293 yards, two scores, and an average of 5.3 yards per rush.

On defense, Antonio Jones-Davis has been everywhere. He has 24 more tackles than any other Huskie, with 78 tackles. To go with those 78 stops, he has nine TFL, four sacks, five pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, and a QB hurry.

And, as always, Sutton Smith is a threat to blow up plays in the backfield. Smith, who might not have the same numbers he had last year, has still played well and leads the team with 13 TFL, seven sacks, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.


The Zips...

Quick Facts:
Record: 4-3 (2-2 MAC)
Points per game: 22.4
Points allowed: 23.6
Yards per game: 315.3 (122.0 rushing, 193.3 passing)
Yards allowed: 368.0 (152.4 rushing, 215.6 passing)

Akron has now won two straight games to get to 2-2 in the MAC, which puts them in fourth place in the MAC East.

They are lead offensively by quarterback Kato Nelson who has hit on 50.48% of his throws for 1348 yards and nine scores. However, he has made mistakes, throwing seven interceptions. Up until this week, Nelson was actually the Zips leading rusher as well. He has now dropped into second place behind Van Edwards but his 315 rushing yards have helped Akron extend many drives.

Edwards exploded for 96 yards last week (his second most on the season) and now has totaled 379 yards and three rushing scores while averaging 4.3 yards per rush. No other Zip has more than 84 rushing yards.

When Nelson attempts a pass, his main target is Andre Williams. Williams leads Akron with 28 catches, 411 yards, and four scores. However, there are three other receivers that the Huskie secondary will have to watch - Jonah Morris, Nate Stewart, and Kwadarrius Smith. Each of the three have scored a touchdown but Morris has 15 grabs for 250 yards, Stewart has 19 snags for 244 yards, and Smith has 231 yards on 15 catches.

Akron’s defense is led by a pair linebackers: John Lako and Ulysses Gilbert III. Lako has 78 tackles, five TFL, three pass breakups, and a fumble recovery. Gilbert III has the second most tackles, 52 (a whopping 26 fewer than Lako!), 6.5 TFL, two fumble recoveries, and a pass breakup.

Defensive End Jamal Davis has also had a very solid season so far. He has amassed 43 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, six pass breakups, five QB hurries, has forced a fumble, and intercepted a pass.


Prediction

This game will most likely be another low-scoring, close game for both teams.

Akron defense could do what most teams have done this year and slow down this Huskies offense for the vast majority of the game...we’ve sen it happen week in and week out against NIU.

However, the stout Huskie defense should have no issues slowing down Nelson and keeping the Zip offense in check as well.

It will most likely come down to who has the ball last or which defense can make a big play late...and, for me, that’s more likely to be the Huskie defense.

NIU Huskies - 20
Akron Zips - 14