For NIU, it’s only their second game against a PAC-12 opponent, and their first in 22 years, as the Huskies lost to Oregon State 67-28 in November of 1996. Conversely, this will be the first time the Utes face a MAC squad.
Date/Time: Saturday, Sept. 8th, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Huskie Stadium — DeKalb, IL
Odds: Utah is an 11-point favorite and ESPN’s FPI predictor gives NIU a 23.4% chance of winning.
Record: 1-0 (2017: 7-6)
Last week: 41-10 win over Weber State (FCS)
Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham (14th season), 112-56
The Utes got off to a slow start offensively last week that included fumbling a punt and throwing an interception allowing Weber State to take an early 10-0 lead. However, Utah quickly figured things out and rolled over the Wildcats.
They are lead by junior quarterback Tyler Huntley, who was able to torch the Weber defense for 279 yards and four touchdowns on 25-40 passing. Last year he completed 63.8% of his passes en route to 2411 yards and 15 TDs with 10 interceptions. He also ran for 537 yards and six touchdowns in 2017, so his legs can get him out of trouble.
Huntley shared the wealth last week, as 12 different players had a receptions, but his main targets were Britain Covey and Siaosi Mariner, as the duo accounted for more then half of Huntley’s completions. Covey, a sophomore, had seven grabs for 79 yards while Mariner, a junior, had six catches for 73 yards and a score.
On the ground the Utes have Zack Moss, a junior halfback that scampered for 1217 yards and 10 scores last season and hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down this year, as he gained 150 yards and a score on 16 carries last week with 86 of those yards coming on one play.
The Huskies didn’t have much offense to talk about, especially in the second half of last week’s contest.
Quarterback Marcus Childers went 14-25 for 105 yards and had a TD and a pick. Childers, who can usually escape pressure well, wasn’t able to get anything going on the ground as he netted -33 yards on 10 carries (which included the five times he was sacked).
Eight players caught a pass for the Huskies last week but only two had more than one reception - D.J. Brown and Jauan Wesley. Brown had five snags for 38 yards while Wesley had four for 43 and the lone Huskie score.
Jordan Nettles appeared to be the workhorse on the ground for NIU. Nettles, a freshman, had 13 carries for 74 yards. Tre Harbison and Marcus Jones combined for 11 carries and 64 yards.
The offensive line really needs to step it up this week. The Huskies have had one of the best O-lines in the country, not just the MAC, but against Iowa they looked very porous - giving up five sacks and three quarterback hurries.
The Utes have the highest ranked defense after week 1, giving up just 59 yards. They held Weber State to 5-22 passing for 13 yards (.6 yards per pass!) and only allowed 46 rushing yards and 1.5 yards per carry. They also forced four turnovers - three fumbles and an interception.
Senior linebacker Chase Hansen is one player to keep an eye on. In 2017 he was third on the team with 51 tackles and last week he had four tackles and two TFL.
But it was defensive tackle John Penisini who led the charge last Saturday. His six tackles and three TFLs topped all Ute defenders.
In the secondary, keep an eye on senior DB Marquise Blair, who had three tackles and two pass breakups last week, and Corrion Ballard who had a couple of tackles as well but in 2017 was second on the team in interceptions.
For the Huskies, the defense just looked gassed in the second half due to the offenses failures, which led to four touchdowns in the final 30 minutes of play. NIU, who was one of the best in the FBS last year at getting pressure, was barely able to get into the backfield against the Hawkeyes. They only managed TWO tackles for loss and a single sack...those numbers will need to increase if they want to stop the spread offense Utah runs.
Sutton Smith and Ben LeRoy lead the charge up front. LeRoy had six tackles last week while Smith has five and also added a sack and a tackle for loss.
The linebackers were led by Kyle Pugh and Antonio Jones-Davis. Pugh made nine tackles, leading all NIU defenders, while Jones-Davis had seven.
Mykelti Williams and Albert Smalls anchor the secondary. Williams was second in tackles with eight, while Smalls had the only NIU interception last week.
Utah seems like they should overpower the Huskies here. They have a lot of speed and depth on offense while not giving up much ground on defense. Sure, NIU is a better team than Weber State and SHOULD be able to move the ball better than the Wildcats. However, Rod Carey’s play calling has been awful so it could be another long night offensively for NIU.
On defense, the secondary will need to keep up with the Ute receivers and stay disciplined on sweeps and screen passes. And Smith and the D-line will need to force a lot more pressure than they did a week ago.
If NIU can do these things, they might be able to keep it close. But I don’t see the Huskies pulling this one out.
Utah - 38
NIU - 21