The Northern Illinois Huskies (0-5) and Eastern Michigan Eagles (1-4) will square off Saturday afternoon in both teams’ final game of the 2020 season. The winner of this battle gets to claim the 5th spot in the West while the loser will officially be the worst in the MAC West.
For the Huskies, it is a must win game as they’re one of just two MAC squads without a win (Bowling Green is the other 0-5 team). The five game losing skid is their longest losing streak since 2007 and is their worst start to a season since 1998, when they started 0-5 before finishing 2-9.
Should NIU finish 2020 with an 0-6 record, it would be their longest losing streak and worst start to a season since 1997, when the Huskies went winless, finishing 0-11.
The Eagles, on the other hand, are coming off a big win against rival Western Michigan, who had been undefeated until last weekend. They will look to keep the momentum rolling at home this week.
When: Saturday, December 12th at noon (11:00 a.m. CST)
Where: Rynearson Stadium — Ypsilanti, MI
Weather: Mid 40s at kickoff with rain throughout the day
Odds: EMU is favored by 6 points and has a 64.8% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI
NIU and EMU are very familiar foes as the Eagles and Huskies will meet for the 51st time this week. The Huskies have dominated the series so far, amassing a 33-15-2 record over the first 50 meetings.
The Huskies have only played one other FBS team more than the Eagles, CMU, who they’ve played 56 times. For EMU, the Huskies are their fourth most common opponent as they’ve met CMU 98 times, Ball State 62 times, and WMU 56 times.
The Eagles actually controlled this series early on.
It began all the way back in 1927 when the “Normalites” - or “Men From Ypsi” - of MSNS (Michigan State Normal School) beat the NISNS (Northern Illinois State Normal School) Cardinals 25-6. The next year they would win 43-0. Fun fact - Rynearson Stadium is named after the coach from this time period - Elton Rynearson - who coached in Ypsi in 1917, 1919–1920, and then again from 1925–1948.
The Men From Ypsi/Hurons (EMU was the Hurons from 1929-1990) led the series 9-5 through the first 14 games. But then, in 1959, everything changed. In the last 61 years the Huskies (a name that was adopted in the 1940s) have gone an insanely good 28-6-2 against EMU.
EMU hasn’t won back-to-back games in the series in 23 years. They won in 1987 and then again in 1997 when NIU rejoined the MAC, ending a ten year hiatus in the series.
Largest Margin of Victory:
NIU: 71-3 (68 points), 2010
EMU: 43-0 (43 points), 1928
Longest Win Streak:
NIU: 11 games (2008-2018)
EMU: 7 games (1952-1958)
Current Streak (last meeting):
EMU - 1 (45-17, 2019)
Points per game: 23.2
Points allowed: 38.2
Total yards: 357.0 (244.4 passing, 112.6 rushing)
Yards allowed: 428.0 (246.0 passing, 182.0 rushing)
The Huskies continue to fall apart in the second half of games. Last week against Toledo, the Huskies looked good on offensive in the first half and entered the break tied at 24-24. But the Rockets shutout NIU in the final 30 minutes and scored 17 points in the 4th quarter to win 41-24. So far this season NIU has been outscored 103-45 in the second half (44-7 in the 3rd quarter!!).
Quarterback Ross Bowers has now thrown for over 1000 yards on the year, as he has completed 57.7% of his throws for 1144 yards and seven touchdowns to just two interceptions. The offensive line, however, has allowed 13 sacks and 11 quarterback hurries which has really hurt the Huskies’ chances of keeping any rhythm they might have.
Tyrice Richie continues to have a very good season for the Huskies. The wide out is currently second in the NCAA with 9.2 receptions per game, trailing only Ole Miss’ Elijah Moore. He now has 46 catches for 526 yards and three TDs.
Treyvon Rudolph, one of the up-and-coming freshman, has been a bright spot as well. Rudolph now has 210 yards on his 11 catches.
On the ground, Harrison Waylee finally broke out last game. He finished with a career-high in rushing yards (114) and now has 334 yards and a touchdown on the season. Erin Collins has been backing him up and has 178 yards and three TDs on his 46 rushes.
Defensively the Huskies are now led by a couple of defensive backs. Cornerback Jordan Gandy leads the team with 36 total stops and seven pass break ups. He also has an interception. Safety Devin Lafayette has 33 tackles, a TFL, a sack, and an interception.
NIU’s defense is still struggling to get pressure on teams, as they have only forced three quarterback hurries and only have 19 tackles in the backfield, including eight sacks. The Huskies have also only forced six turnovers, five interceptions and a fumble recovery. For comparison, opponents have 38 TFL, 13 sacks, 11 QBH, seven fumble recoveries, and two interceptions against NIU’s offense.
Points per game: 31.6
Points allowed: 36.6
Total yards: 413.0 (284.0 passing, 129.0 rushing)
Yards allowed: 506.4 (254.4 passing, 252.0 rushing)
Eastern, despite being 1-4, comes into this game on a high note. They just upset the top team in the West and did it quite convincingly - taking a 9-7 lead late in the first quarter and never looking back en route to a 53-42 victory over WMU, who entered the game atop the MAC West at 4-0.
Like the Huskies, the Eagles have struggled with second half meltdowns, especially in the final quarter, where EMU has been outscored 70-43 this season. Against Ball State, Eastern had 24-13 lead late in the third quarter before the Cardinals hung 25 points on the Eagles in the final 19 minutes to win 38-31. Then, two weeks later, EMU had a 20-6 lead against CMU before being outscored 25-3 in the fourth quarter and losing 31-23.
Preston Hutchinson has been a real solid quarterback for the Eagles, completing 62.13% of his passes for 1420 yards and ten touchdowns. He can also hurt teams with his legs. Hutchinson is second on the team with 180 rushing yards but leads EMU with 71 carries and seven rushing touchdowns.
However, he has thrown six interceptions, half of which came in that loss to the Chippewas, and has been sacked 13 times this season so defenses can get him into bad situations and put pressure on him.
Hutchinson has three main targets - Hassan Beydoun, Tanner Knue, and Quian Williams. Beydoun leads the team in receptions (32) and yards (372) but Knue is a close second. Knue has 22 grabs, 371 yards, and a team-high three receiving touchdowns. Williams has 18 catches for 273 yards and two touchdowns.
Their ground game focuses around Hutchinson and two backs - Darius Boone Jr. and Samson Evans. Boone Jr. got the bulk of the carries last week, rushing it 25 times for 148 yards against the Broncos, but Evans was also involved - gaining 61 yards on seven carries last week. On the season they each have 34 carries with Boone going for 216 yards and a TD while Evens has totaled 148 yards and a score.
Linebacker Terry Myrick leads the defense with 60 total tackles. He also has 3.5 TFL, two pass break ups, two fumble recoveries, a sack, and a forced fumble.
Up front Turan Rush (what a spot-on name) leads the team with 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks to go along with his 14 tackles and QB hurry.
Teams need to watch out for Alvinoski LaFleur who has 26 tackles, two pass break ups, a team-leading two interceptions, 1.5 TFL, and has forced and recovered a fumble.
This battle will come down to whichever defense doesn’t melt down more in the second half.
And, while the Eagles look better on paper, I think the Huskies come into this one fired up and wanting the win more than EMU does.
Hutchinson will be able to move the ball against the Huskie defense but I think Bowers and Waylee can counter for NIU. If the O-line can protect Bowers and open some holes for Waylee (which isn’t out of the question in this game), the Huskies can pull the upset.
The smart money is on EMU winning but I think the Huskies want to make sure they don’t go winless this year and end up stealing this one from the Eagles.
NIU Huskies - 31
EMU Eagles - 28