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2018 MAC Football Game Preview: Toledo Rockets at Northern Illinois Huskies

Can the Huskies continue their winning ways in the MAC or will the Rockets give them their first conference loss?

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

The Toledo Rockets will head to DeKalb to take on the Northern Illinois Huskies this week in a battle between two of the perennial favorites to win the West.

The Huskies sit atop the MAC West with a perfect 5-0 conference record while the Rockets sit in third spot, at 3-2, a half game behind the WMU Broncos, If NIU wins two of their final three games, they are headed to Detroit. For the Rockets to get to the MAC Championship Game they’ll need to beat the Huskies, win out, and then hope NIU loses to either Miami or WMU in the next few weeks.

Wednesday’s game marks the 46th meeting between these two schools with Toledo holding a commanding 31-14 series lead, including winning the last two contests.


Game Info

Date/Time: Wednesday, Nov. 7th, 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST)
Where: Huskie Stadium — DeKalb, Illinois (24,000 capacity)
Watch: ESPN2
Odds: NIU is favored by 3 and has a slim, 50.2% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI
Weather: Clear but in the low-40s


The Rockets...

Quick Facts:
Record: 5-4 (3-2 MAC)
Points per game: 41.2
Points allowed: 30.8
Yards per game: 440.1 (204.3 rushing, 235.8 passing)
Yards allowed: 450.7 (171.2 rushing, 279.4 passing)

The Rockets will once again be without starting quarterback Mitchell Guadagni, who’s status is unsure the rest of the season. But in his place they have a player who has done just as well - Eli Peters.

Peters, who has seen action is seven of the nine games this season, will be making his third start. This season, he has thrown for just under 1000 yards (998) and 11 touchdowns while connecting on 53.7% of his passes. He has thrown six interceptions, which is twice as many as Guadagni. And, unlike Guadagni who has 428 rushing yards and three rushing TDs (second most on Toledo), Peters is not a running threat.

On the ground, the Rockets will use a two main backs, Bryant Koback and Shakif Seymour. Koback is averaging 5.8 yards per carry en route to 512 yards and nine scores. Seymour has 422 yards and averages 4.6 yards per touch...he will pass Guadagni for second place with just six yards against NIU.

The Rockets have three receivers with over 400 yards - Diontae Johnson, Cody Thompson, and Jon’Vea Johnson.

Diontae Johnson leads the team with 33 grabs and 583 yards but his seven TDs is only second on the team. Thompson is the biggest threat to score, as nearly a third of his receptions are touchdowns; he has 31 catches for 425 yards and 10 TDs. Jon’Vea Johnson has 415 yards on 21 snags and four scores.

Toledo’s defense has given up plenty of yardage but not too many points. They have a plethora of talent and playmakers that bend but don’t break.

Defensive linemen Tuzar Skipper and Reggie Howard lead the Rockets up front. Skipper’s 6.5 sacks lead the team. He also has 43 tackles, 8 TFL, two fumble recoveries, and forced a fumble while Howard leads the team with 11 TFL to go along with his 38 tackles, three sacks, and two forced fumbles.

Also look for linebacker Richard Olekanma to be all over the field. His 61 tackles are tops for Toledo and he also has six TFL, 1.5 sacks, an interception, and a fumble recovery.


The Huskies...

Quick Facts:
Record: 6-3 (5-0 MAC)
Points per game: 19.2
Points allowed: 21.7
Yards per game: 306.4 (167.3 rushing, 139.1 passing)
Yards allowed: 346.3 (103.2 rushing, 243.1 passing)

Northern Illinois’ has seen their offense slowly (very slowly) start to get into a rhythm over the past four or five weeks.

Quarterback Marcus Childers has now connected on 56.7% of his passes for 1252 yards and has nine scores to five interceptions. As of late, his legs have aided the Huskies as well, and he’s now third on the team with 270 rushing yards and three additional touchdowns.

Tre Harbison has been solid the last few weeks, including his monster performance last against Akron on Thursday when he tore off 169 yards on 23 carries. He now has 665 yards and four TDs. Marucs Jones has also established himself as a reliable back, netting 375 yards and a pair of scores on his 70 touches.

Through the air, Childers will be looking for Jauan Wesley or D.J. Brown. Both receivers have 40 receptions but Wesley has 439 yards and two TDs to Brown’s 348 yards and three scores.

NIU has relied on their defense all season though and this game will be more of the same. The Huskies’ defense ranks in the top-30 in sacks (2nd), tackles for loss (12th), rushing defense (13th) and scoring defense (29th).

Antonio Jones-Davis and Sutton Smith continue to anchor this impressive defense. Jones-Davis leads the team in tackles (84) and has nine TFL, four sacks, six pass break ups, and two fumble recoveries. Smith leads the team in sacks (8) and TFL (14) and also has four QB Hurries, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and blocked a kick.

But last week saw a new breakout performer as freshman cornerback Jalen McKie made a name for himself. He had three tackles, two interceptions (one of which was a 23-yard pick-six), broke up a pass, AND returned a blocked extra point for a score for the Huskies.


Prediction

This game will be a tough hard fought battle between two of the best teams in the West (something we’ve heard year in and year out when this game happens).

The Rockets need a win to stay alive in the hunt for a MAC title. NIU needs to win two of their final three games to lock in a trip to Detroit.

Before the season started, I predicted Toledo would beat the Huskies. Now, I’m not so sure.

Toledo has an outstanding offense that’s really taken off lately, no matter who is at quarterback. Northern Illinois has an amazing defense that bends but doesn’t break...and home field advantage.

I also have said numerous times, never bet against the Huskies in MAC play...

In another close game, the Huskies defense gets a stop late to send them to 6-0 in the MAC and ends the Rockets hopes of a MAC title game appearance.

Toledo Rockets - 24
NIU Huskies - 27