The Ball State Cardinals and Northern Illinois Huskies will start MAC play this week with the winner claiming the Bronze Stalk Trophy.
Both teams enter the game at 1-3, with each team’s lone win coming against an FCS squad - Fordham for Ball State and Illinois State for the Huskies.
When: Saturday, October 5th at 2:30 p.m. (CST)
Where: Huskie Stadium — DeKalb, IL
Weather: Upper 50s with possible rain showers
Odds: NIU is 4.5 point favorites and has a 59.4% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI
This will be the 47th meeting all time between the two schools with the Huskies claiming a 24-20-2 lead through the first 46 games. In the mid-2000s it was decided that this rivalry needed a trophy so, in 2008, the Bronze Stalk Trophy was introduced.
The first meeting was all the way back in 1941 and ended in a 6-6 tie. From there the Huskies would jump out to an early 6-1-2 lead after the first nine meetings. But the Cardinals would dominate for the next twenty years and, from 1978 to 1998, BSU was 16-1 against NIU, giving them a huge 17-7-2 series lead.
But, since 1998, it has been all Northern. The Huskies are 17-3 since then, with the Cardinal’s last win coming in 2008 - the first year the Bronze Stalk Trophy was awarded. Since then, however, the trophy has remained in DeKalb, as NIU has won ten straight.
Largest margin of victory:
NIU: 63-17 (46 points), 2017
Ball State: 42-0 (42 points), 1979
Longest win streak:
NIU: 10 games (2009-Present)
Ball State: 9 games (1974-1982)
Last Week: 34-23 loss to NC State Wolfpack
Coach: Mike Neu (4th season, all at BSU), 11-29 overall
Neu also coached in the Arena Football League and AF2, where he went a combined 52-43.
Ball State has played tough against their non-conference opponents. The games against the Indiana Hoosiers and NC State Wolfpack ended in very similar scores (losses of 34-24 and 34-23, respectively), the FAU Owls were able to win 41-31, but BSU handled the Fordham Rams 57-29.
Quarterback Drew Plitt has been playing really well so far this year. He’s connected on 67.6% of his passes for 1373 yards and 11 touchdowns while throwing four interceptions. He can make things happen with his legs as well when needed, rushing for a long of 51-yards this season. But his o-line has also been dodgy and he’s been sacked 11 times as well.
Plitt has a three-headed monster at wide receiver, as Riley Miller, Justin Hall, and Antwan Davis each have over 200 receiving yards (306, 235, and 283 respectively). Hall leads all WRs with 24 while Miller is right behind, with 22. Davis has a team-high three receiving TDs while Miller has two and Hall’s lone score came on a 50-yard bomb.
On the ground Caleb Huntley gets the bulk of the carries with Walter Fletcher filling in occasionally. Huntley has 283 yards on 62 carries for an average of 4.6 yards per rush and has three TDs. Fletcher has 91 yards and a TD on 30 attempts.
Defensively, Ball State is led by linebacker Jacob White. White’s 47 tackles is 17 more than any other Cardinal player and his three TFLs are tied for third on the team.
Defensive end James Jennette has been a beast up front, topping all Cardinals with two sacks and four TFL in his 15 stops.
Amechi Uzodinma II has been a ball hawk, as he has two of BSU’s six interceptions and two pass break ups. Safety Bryce Cosby has played just as well, netting 30 tackles (second on the team), three pass break ups, an interception, and a forced fumble.
Last Week: 24-18 loss to Vanderbilt Commodores
Coach: Thomas Hammock (1st season), 1-3 overall
After three straight road games (and losses) against P5 opponents, the Huskies finally return home for a game before once again heading on the road for multiple weeks.
NIU has played some tough competition this season so far, as they fell to teams from the PAC-12, B1G, and SEC in September but will now turn their focus to the MAC and getting back to Detroit.
Quarterback Ross Bowers has been the big story for the Huskies this season. The Cal transfer has actually created somewhat of a passing attack for NIU...something that was badly missing the past few season.
Bowers has thrown for 1056 yards and four touchdowns but he hasn’t been perfect. He’s only connecting on 59.4% of his passes and has tossed three interceptions.
He has spread the ball around nicely though, as five Huskies have 10 or more catches and over 100 receiving yards - Daniel Crawford (14 for 231 yards), Spencer Tears (12 for 241 yards, TD), Tyrice Richie (12 for 193 yards, 2 TDs), Mitch Brinkman (12 for 137 yards, TD), and Cole Tucker (11 for 139 yards)
The ground game, which we all though the Huskies would excel at, has been slow developing so far. Tre Harbison and Jordan Nettles now seem to be sharing the responsibilities with Harbison having 54 carries for 224 yards while Nettles has 31 attempts for 146 yards. NIU only has two rushing touchdowns, one by Bowers and a 2-yard scamper by Marcus Jones last week.
On defense, the Huskies lost Kyle Pugh for the season but should get him again next year after the medical redshirt.
Linebacker Antonio Jones-Davis leads the team with 22 tackles and 3.5 TFL. He’s also blocked a kick and broken up a pass. Right behind AJD is new-comer Jordan Cole. Cole now has 19 tackles, 3.5 TFL, and has recorded a safety.
Jalen McKie has still be the Huskies’ shutdown corner. The sophomore has 16 tackles, three pass break ups, a TFL, an interception, a defensive touchdown, and TWO blocked kicks.
The Cardinals and Huskies might be more evenly matched here than I care to admit. While the Huskie defense is the stronger of the two and should be able to get stops, it will come down to which team’s offensive line can do a better job opening up holes for running backs and keeping their QB upright.
I think the Huskies have done a better job against tougher competition than Ball State has and, with that experience, their line and defense will be up to the challenge here.
BSU Cardinals - 21
NIU Huskies - 31