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2019 MAC Football Week 12 Game Preview: Northern Illinois Huskies at Toledo Rockets

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Toledo looks to keep their hopes in the West alive as the struggling Huskies come to town.

James H. Jimenez

The Northern Illinois Huskies will travel once again this week, embarking on their seventh (and final) road game in ten weeks, as they take on one of their biggest rivals, the Toledo Rockets.

Last Tuesday the Rockets (6-3, 3-2 MAC) survived a scare from Kent State to keep pace with the top teams in the MAC West while NIU (3-6, 2-3 MAC) had a bye week after getting walloped 48-10 by Central Michigan on November 2nd.

Thomas Hammock, a former NIU running back, was 0-3 in his playing days against the Rockets (1999-2001) and will be looking to beat Toledo for the first time now as a head coach.


Game Info

When: Wednesday, November 13 at 8 p.m. (EST)
Where: Glass Bowl — Toledo, OH
Watch: ESPN2
Weather: Cloudy in the mid-20s at kickoff
Odds: Toledo is a 3-point favorite and has a 64% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI


Series History

This will be the 47th meeting between the two schools. The Rockets have a very comfortable advantage in the series, with a record of 31-15 against the Huskies.

The schools first met in 1967 and have basically met every year since (only missing 1968, 1973, and a five year hiatus from 1992-1997).

Toledo took an early lead in the series and continued to dominate. The Rockets were 26-6 over the first 32 meetings through 2004 which included an unprecedented 11-game winning streak from 1990-2004.

However, since 2005, the Huskies have made it a much more competitive series, going 9-5 against the Rockets over the last 14 seasons, including a six-game win streak from 2010-2015.

Largest margin of victory:
NIU: 41-5 (36 points), 1987
Toledo: 70-21 (49 points), 2007

Longest win streak:
NIU: 6 games (2010-2015)
Toledo: 11 games (1990-2004)

Current streak:
NIU - 1 (38-15, 2018)

Average score:
NIU: 21.7
Toledo: 27


The Huskies

Quick Facts:
Points per game: 23.2
Points allowed: 27.9
Total yards: 363.7 (245.2 passing, 118.4 rushing)
Yards allowed: 372.7 (198.1 passing, 174.6 rushing)

Week to week we’re still not sure just what Huskie team we’ll be seeing. They have shown they can be a really tough team to beat but they’ve also had weeks where they looked lost and seemed to have no idea what to do. Hell, we’ve even seen that disparity in the same game (i.e. Ball State).

Ross Bowers has given them a boost to their passing offense, throwing for 1947 yards and six TDs. But he’s also been forced into a lot of tough situations which has led to bad throws, resulting in eight interceptions (including three last week as the Huskies scrambled to find points against CMU).

NIU’s tight ends have been one of the bright spots this season as Mitchell Brinkman and Daniel Crawford have each exploded this year. Brinkman is second on the team with 393 yards and two touchdowns on his 28 catches. Crawford has 30 grabs for 364 yards.

Cole Tucker has come out of nowhere to leads all Huskie receivers with 483 yards while Tyrice Richie leads the team with three receiving scores.

On the ground Tre Harbison couldn’t get anything going in their last game (just 17 yards on 10 carries) but will be looking to rebound here. He has done well against most MAC foes and now 741 yards and seven touchdowns on the year. Another 1000-yard season is certainly plausible, as he needs to average just 86 yards in each of the final three Huskie match ups.

If a team is going to take the lead on the Huskies, they’ll most likely do it in the second quarter and never look back. NIU is being outscored 85-46 in the second quarter while every other period has seen the scoring rather even (within 5 points).

Safety Mykelti Williams leads the team in tackles with 67. He also has four TFL, a pass break up, and forced a fumble.

Vinny Labus has been starting for the injured Antonio Jones-Davis and he has done well in releif. He’s now third on the team with 45 stops and also has 3.5 TFL, two sacks, two QB hurries, a pass break up, and a fumble recovery.


The Rockets

Quick Facts:
Points per game: 29.1
Points allowed: 28.6
Total yards: 449.2 (199.3 passing, 249.9 rushing)
Yards allowed: 467.7 (271.1 passing, 196.6 rushing)

Toledo, although one of three bowl eligible MAC teams, hasn’t done as well as many expected them to do this season, especially in their last four games. The Rockets started 4-1 but never seemed to be able to take over games as, with the exception of the game against FCS foe Murray State, every Rocket win has been within seven points.

The Rockets have also struggled against the MAC far more than anticipated. The close game with WMU was expected but being shutdown by Bowling Green and the blowout loss to Ball State were not. They have won their last two games, against EMU and Kent State, but only by a combined five points. A missed two-point conversion was the difference in last week’s win against Kent and it took overtime against a bipolar Eagle team two weeks ago.

Some of their woes can be linked to starting quarterback Mitchell Guadagni being out the past few weeks with an undisclosed injury but the Rockets still have plenty of talent elsewhere to make up for that. Guadagni’s status is still uncertain for this week’s game.

Starting in his place has been Eli Peters, who is no stranger to starting. Peters played in 11 games last season where he threw for 1837 yards, 18 TDs, and seven interceptions. This year, he’s passed for 365 yards, three scores, and thrown two picks. And, while Guadagni can use his legs (he’s third on the team with 332 rushing yards and four TDs), Peters isn’t nearly as mobile.

The Rockets have three receivers that can make life in the Huskie secondary hell - Bryce Mitchell, Danzel McKinley-Lewis, and Desmond Phillips. Mitchell leads the team with 431 yards on his 22 catches and is tied for the lead with two TD receptions. McKinley-Lewis has 411 yards and a touchdown on his 20 snags. Phillips leads Toledo with 28 receptions and has 312 yards and two TDs.

But, for as good as Toledo can be through the air, they are even more dangerous on the ground. Their 250 yards per game is best in the MAC and 12th in the NCAA. Bryant Koback has been one of the best running backs in the nation this year. He has ten rushing touchdowns and his 1052 yards is 11th in the country and second in the MAC, trailing only WMU’s LeVante Bellamy.

On defense linebacker Jordan Fisher leads the team with 68 tackles. He has also has 3.5 TFL, two pass break ups, and an interception.

But it’s the Rockets’ secondary that has been everywhere. Six of their top ten tacklers are defensive backs, with Samuel Womack and Kahlil Robinson being great in coverage so far this year. The duo has combined for 83 tackles, 1.5 TFL, a forced fumble and, more importantly, has five of the seven Toledo interceptions. Safety Saeed Holt is second on the team with 57 stops but leads the Rockets with 8.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks. Holt also has a QB hurry, pass break up, and has forced and recovered a fumble.


Prediction

The Huskies will most likely come out fired up for this game as they hate Toledo more than any other MAC foe and would love to end the Rockets’ chances at a MAC West title. And, while Toledo doesn’t necessarily have the same animosity towards NIU, the Rockets won’t be lacking any motivation, as they certainly need a win to keep those hopes alive.

While Toledo’s defense has been hemorrhaging yards all season long (allowing nearly 470 yards per game), they still only give up 28 points per game - bending but not breaking. So, while Bowers and Co. might be able to move the ball some, the Huskies will need to find away to actually break through and score.

I don’t see that happening. And, with NIU’s injury issues and problems with self-inflicted wounds on defense, I don’t see the Huskies being able to contain Koback (or Peters) for a full 60 minutes.

The Rockets most likely take the lead early in the second quarter and then try hold off a Huskie comeback attempt.

NIU Huskies - 27
Toledo Rockets - 38