However, both teams have struggled so far this season and a lot of fans on both sides have some doubts creeping up.
Last week the Huskies (1-4, 0-1 MAC) looked great against Ball State for the first 30 minutes before completely falling apart in the second half, giving up 24 unanswered points and falling 27-20.
Conversely, Ohio (2-3, 1-0 MAC) needed overtime against Buffalo and, after a botched PAT attempt from the Bulls, the Bobcats were able to sneak away with a 21-20 win to start conference play.
When: Saturday, October 12th at 3:30 p.m. (EST)
Where: Peden Stadium — Athens, OH
Weather: Mid-to-upper 50s with possible rain showers
Odds: Ohio is a 7 point favorites and has a 67% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI
This will be the 23 meeting between the two schools and it has been a very even series throughout the years. NIU holds a slim 12-10 lead over the Bobcats with almost every game seeming to be close. In fact, the average score for the games is 24-23.3 NIU.
They first met in 1968 then again in ‘74 before meeting every season from 1976 through 1986. However, since then, the teams have only met nine times.
Ohio won the first three meetings but, from 1977-1983, the Huskies won seven straight. The Bobcats would go 6-2 against NIU in the next eight meeting to tie the series at 9-9 through 2009.
Since the 2010s began, the Huskies have gone 3-1 against Ohio (including that dramatic 2010 MAC Championship game comeback).
Largest margin of victory:
NIU:36-0 (36 points), 1982
Ohio: 63-15 (48 points), 1976
Longest win streak:
NIU: 7 games (1977-1983)
Ohio: 3 games (1968-1976 and 1986-1998)
NIU - 1 (24-21, 2018)
NIU has a lot of talent on this team and can win games...if they’d just get out of their own way. The Huskies are averaging just under eight fouls (7.8) per game, which is 110th out of 130 teams. Last week their 12 infractions cost them numerous points, field position, and, eventually, the game.
They’re also only converting on a mere 25% of their third down attempts (127th in the NCAA) which, in part, is due to penalties setting them back and poor offensive line play.
Quarterback Ross Bowers struggled some last week, going 21/43 for 241 yards and an interception in a steady rain. So far this year, he’s connecting on 56.9% of his throws for 1297 yards but has an even TD-INT ratio, tossing four touchdowns and four interceptions.
He has spread the ball around nicely though, as five Huskies have 13 or more receptions and four players have 200+ receiving yards.
Tight end Daniel Crawford leads the team with 19 receptions and 316 yards. Wide outs Tyrice Richie and Spencer Tears have done well, with 223 yards and 246 yards respectively. Richie is the only Huskie with multiple touchdown catches (2). Cole Tucker also has 208 yards on 15 snags. And Mitchell Brinkman should hit that 200-yard mark this week as he is just 16 yards shy, sitting at 184 yards and a TD on 16 receptions.
On the ground, Tre Harbison finally broke through in the first half of last week as he ran for 123 yards and two scores in the first 30 minutes. He finished the game with 146 yards, which is 40% of his season total of 370 yards. His two touchdowns were the first of the season for him.
The offensive line has struggled this season, giving up 14 sacks and 34 TFL to opponents, which, along with a handful of illegal formation penalties, has pushed the Huskies into a bunch of 3rd-and-long situations.
Defensively, the Huskies rely on Antonio Jones-Davis to be everywhere. The linebacker leads the team with 39 tackles and five TFLs. He also has a sack, a blocked kick, and, last week, added an interception to his stats as well.
The secondary has actually been one of NIU’s better units, allowing just 181 passing yards per game which is 17th in the NCAA and best in the MAC. Mykelti Williams, Treyshon Foster, and Jalen McKie have done well in coverage.
Williams has 28 tackles (second on the team), two TFL, a break up, and a forced fumble. Foster and McKie each have 21 stops, while McKie has added four pass break ups, two blocked kicks, and an interception returned for a touchdown.
Ohio came into the season as the favorite in the East to knock off the Toledo Rockets. However, they have started a lot slower than most thought. They played very lethargic against Louisiana and Buffalo, despite getting the win.
Nathan Rourke, their star quarterback, hasn’t been as strong a passer as most thought he’d be this season. So far he’s only completing 58% of his throws and has 1012 yards and six touchdowns to four interceptions.
However, he is also the team’s leading rusher. He’s netted 250 rushing yards on 53 carries (13 of which were technically sacks) and has three rushing touchdowns.
When it’s not Rourke running it, the Bobcats use O’Shaan Allison and De’Montre Tuggle. Allison has 59 carries for 241 yards and a pair of TDs while Tuggle has 173 yards and three scores on his 30 attempts.
Four Bobcats have 160+ receiving yards but no one on the team has hit the 200-yard mark, although that will most likely change this week.
Shane Cooks is the closest to 200, as he has 191 yards and two scores on just eight receptions. Isiah Cox (173 yards), tight end Ryan Luehrman (163 yards, 2 TD), and Jerome Buckner (162 yards) are the other three to keep a eye out for.
On defense the Bobcats have three linebackers to watch out for.
Dylan Conner, Jared Dorsa, and Eric Popp roam the middle of the field. Conner has 41 tackles, two QB hurries, and a pass break up. Dorsa is right behind him with 38 tackles, three QBH, two pass break ups, 1.5 TFL, and .5 sack. Popp has forced a fumble in addition to his 33 stops, 2.5 TFL, two QBH, sack, and pass break up.
In the secondary, Javon Hagan leads the team with 46 tackles and also has two TFL, a sack, a pass break up, a fumble recovery, and a QBH. Marlin Brooks has been a good cover corner, as he has 24 tackles, a team-leading three pass break ups, the teams only interception, and a QBH.
Up front, Cole Baker leads the Bobcats with 2.5 sacks and 2.5 TFL to go along with his 14 tackles and three quarterback hurries.
Despite the teams being relatively even from a talent stand point, the Bobcats are favorites in this one.
The Huskies have the talent to stay with, and beat, the Bobcats.
What they don’t have is the discipline. NIU has shot themselves in the foot so many times this season that it’s hard to have them pulling out the win. If they can play a clean, penalty-free game, with out making the same mental mistakes like this...
This summed up the second half pretty well pic.twitter.com/pcmAeXzgHV— Dave Drury (@DDrury86) October 8, 2019
...they JUST might be able to pull this one out.
Rourke has struggled to throw the ball as effectively as we thought he would and, with him going up against a tough NIU secondary, look for him to use his legs often to keep the chains rolling for the Bobcats.
I can see this one being another close game but, unless the Huskies correct the mistakes from the previous weeks, Ohio should be able to win the game and stay perfect in the MAC.
NIU Huskies - 27
Ohio Bobcats - 31