The Toledo Rockets (2-2) head to DeKalb, Illinois on Saturday afternoon to take on the Northern Illinois Huskies (0-4) in a battle between two teams in unusual positions.
Over the past twenty or so years, the Huskies and Rockets have been vying for the top spot in the MAC West but in this crazy 2020 season, neither team is in contention for the West.
For NIU, they are playing to avoid their first five game losing streak since 2007 and to avoid starting 0-5 for the first time since 1998.
When: Saturday, December 5th at noon (11:00 a.m. CST)
Where: Huskie Stadium — DeKalb, IL
Weather: Clear and in the high 30/low 40s at kickoff
Odds: Toledo is favored by 9.5 points and has a 65.3% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI
This will be the 48th meeting all-time between the two schools with the Rockets controlling the series with a 31-16 record over the Huskies.
The first game took place in 1967 and saw Toledo crush NIU 35-0. It didn’t get much better from there for the Huskies as the Rockets would win 29 of the first 37 games against NIU - which includes win streaks of eleven and five games.
However, in recent years NIU has come storming back and in just the past decade they have doubled their win total, as they are 8-2 against Toledo since 2010.
Toledo’s record vs NIU (1967-2009): 29-8
Toledo’s record vs NIU (2010-present): 2-8
NIU will be looking to get to .500 at home against the Rockets, as a win this Saturday would give the Huskies an 11-11 record against the Rockets in Huskie Stadium. NIU has won the last five games played in Huskie Stadium, last losing in 2006.
Largest Margin of Victory:
UT: 70-21 (49 points), 2007
NIU: 41-5 (36 points), 1987
Longest Win Streak:
UT: 11 games (1990-2004)
NIU: 6 games (2010-2015)
Current Streak (last meeting):
NIU - 2 (31-28, 2019)
Points per game: 36.25
Points allowed: 24.75
Total yards: 490.7 (314.5 passing, 176.2 rushing)
Yards allowed: 357.2 (240.0 passing, 117.2 rushing)
Eli Peters has once again been an efficient quarterback for the Rockets. He has connected on 68.2% of his throws for 1106 yards and has a 9-2 touchdown-interception ratio. He’s also rushed it 25 times for 53 yards, and more if you take out the nine sacks for -50 yards opponents have accumulated in the first four games.
Carter Bradley, Peters’ backup, has come in for a few series in each of the last two games and has been equally impressive, completing eight of his 12 throws for 152 yards and three touchdowns.
The Rocket quarterbacks spread the ball around well. Seven players have nine or more receptions and 100+ yards on the year. Isaiah Winstead leads all receivers with 283 yards and also has two touchdows on his 14 catches. Bryce Mitchell has 188 yards on 10 receptions and is tied with Devin Maddox for the team lead in touchdowns, with three.
On the ground, the Rockets are led by Bryant Koback who has 334 yards and three TDs on 82 carries. Koback also leads the team in receptions (19) and is third on the team with 184 receiving yards and has added one touchdown through the air.
Fellow senior halfback, Shakif Seymour, has not played in the last two games and I haven’t been able to find any updates on him (as of 12/3) being available for this week’s game. If he doesn’t play again, it will be Micah Kelly backing up Koback. Kelly has 26 carries for 119 yards and a score, while Seymour has 127 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.
Defensively, Toledo uses Johnson & Johnson to do well. Linebacker Dyontae Johnson leads the team with 30 tackles and also has two tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry. Defensive end Desjuan Johnson leads the way with a team-leading five tackles for loss and three sacks to go along with his 16 total tackles.
Next to Desjuan Johnson is fellow DE Jamal Hines who has been doing it all. Hines has 22 tackles, 4.5 TFL, two sacks, two quarterback hurries, a pass break up, an interception, and has forced fumble.
Points per game: 23.0
Points allowed: 37.5
Total yards: 350.7 (237.2 passing, 113.5 rushing)
Yards allowed: 382.5 (199.5 passing, 183.0 rushing)
NIU’s roster has slowly been progressing this season and they are coming off their best game of the year (so far), when they held the high-scoring, high-powered WMU Broncos to just 30 points and 325 yard in the 30-27 loss last weekend (WMU was averaging 52 points and 516 yards per game).
The Huskies have been able to keep it close in most games early on but have struggled in the opening stages of the second half, getting out-scored 44-7 in the third quarter this season.
Ross Bowers continues to lead the Huskies passing attack, connecting on 60.3% of his throws for 871 yards and five touchdowns with just two interceptions.
Tyrice Richie will look to continue his great season. The Huskie wide out has 415 yards and two touchdowns on 39 receptions. His 39 catches is the most in the MAC and he is third in the NCAA in receptions per game (9.75), only trailing Purdue’s Rondale Moore (11) and Ole Miss’ Elijah Moore (10.75).
When it’s not Richie catching the ball it’ll most likely be Cole Tucker, Daniel Crawford, or freshman Treyvon Rudolph. Crawford has 12 grabs for 89 yards while Tucker has 11 catches for 123 yards and a score. Rudolph has been a great find for the Huskies, as he has 174 yards on 10 receptions but has also been killing it in the return game, netting 450 yards on 17 kick returns, with a long of 56.
NIU continues to struggle running the ball, as their 113.5 yards per game ranks 11th in the MAC - only EMU is worse, with 99 rushing yards per game. Harrison Waylee and Erin Collins are the two main backs. Waylee, another freshman starter, has gained 220 yards on 65 carries (3.4/rush) while Collins has 178 yards and three touchdowns on his 46 attempts (3.9/rush).
Defensively, linebackers Kyle Pugh and Nick Rattin have played well for NIU. Pugh leads all Huskies with 27 tackles and has added 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, and quarterback hurry to his stat line. Rattin is third on the team with 21 stops.
Sophomore cornerback Jordan Gandy is sandwiched between the two linebackers and has 25 stops, an interception, and seven pass break ups - no other Huskie has more than one PBU.
The Huskies also need to find a way to get more pressure in the backfield, as they have only amassed 16 total tackles in the backfield and eight sacks. Outside of Pugh, no Huskie has more than one sack or more than 1.5 TFL.
After watching the Huskies play well against WMU, this game looks like it might be more competitive and closer than originally thought. Toledo’s two losses have come against WMU and Ball State - both teams that NIU played close.
Toledo, on paper, should be able to get the win with a better offensive attack and much more solid defensive line. But the Huskies always come out fired up against the Rockets and mark this game every year on their calendar.
If the young pups on NIU’s roster can continue to show improvement, and the Huskies limit turnovers like they did against WMU, there is a chance the Huskies can walk away with their first win of the year.
Koback and Peters should be able to do just enough to avoid the upset but I think this will be closer than most people think.
Toledo Rockets - 31
NIU Huskies - 28