The Northern Illinois Huskies will host the Western Michigan Broncos at Huskie Stadium on Tuesday evening in both teams’ final regular season game.
Western Michigan (6-5, 3-4 MAC) comes into the game having dropped three of their last four games, including a 1-point loss to EMU last week. They will be looking to stay above .500 on the season and finish strong.
The Huskies (8-3, 6-1 MAC) have already clinched the MAC West and have one of the best turn-arounds in college football. They’ll be looking to become the first team to ever go winless and then win the conference championship the very next year.
- When: Tuesday, November 23rd at 7 p.m. (6 p.m. CST)
- Where: Huskie Stadium — DeKalb, IL
- Watch: ESPNU. A valid cable subscription is required.
- Weather: Clear but chilly, highs in the mid-30s at kickoff
- Odds: WMU is favored by 4 points and has a 51.1% chance of winning according to ESPN’s FPI
WMU comes into this game third in the MAC in total yards, averaging 448.2 yards per game. However, despite moving the ball well, the Broncos are only averaging 29.8 points per game - which is seventh in the MAC.
Most of their offense comes through the air (254.3 yards/game) and, with quarterback Kaleb Eleby on their roster, that’s no surprise. Eleby is completing 62.4% of his passes and has thrown for 2,777 yards and 16 touchdowns on the season while throwing just five interceptions. He also has five rushing TDs on the year but, since he has been sacked 25 times for -188 yards, he only has a total of 53 rushing yards this season.
Eleby has three main targets when he throws, including star wide out Skyy Moore. Moore leads all WMU receivers in receptions (79), yards (1,050), and touchdowns (6). His 79 catches leads the MAC and he is one of two players in the MAC with over 1,000 receiving yards. When Moore doesn’t get the ball it’s going to either Jaylen Hall or Corey Crooms. Hall has 689 yards and three scores on his 42 grabs while Crooms has caught 40 passes for 631 yards and five touchdowns.
The Broncos also have a two-headed monster on the ground. Sean Tyler and La’Darius Jefferson have split carries all season long and each are nearing the 1,000-yard mark on the season. Tyler has run the ball 147 times and gained 889 yards (6.0 yards/run) and scored eight times while Jefferson has carried the rock 175 times and tallied ten touchdowns and 766 yards (4.4 yards/run).
Western’s defense has been solid all season long, holding teams to just 342.9 yards per game (second best in the MAC) and allowing 29.3 points per game. They get a ton of pressure in the backfield and have accounted for 82 TFLs and 35 sacks on the season. WMU is also one of the best in the country on 3rd-down defense, allowing teams to pick up first downs just 28.15% of the time, which is fourth best in the NCAA
Like the Huskies, their secondary doesn’t get too many interceptions, as they only have three on the season, and it’s much easier to pass against the Broncos than it is to run against them. They are giving up 207.2 passing yards per game to just 135.7 rushing yards per game.
They are very dangerous in the middle, as their top four tacklers are all linebackers. Zaire Barnes and Corvin Moment lead the team with 63 total tackles each. Barnes has added seven TFL, 2.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries and also forced a fumble. Moment has 12.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, one recovery, and three pass break ups.
Up front, defensive lineman Ali Fayad has 10.5 sacks (tied for fifth in the NCAA) and 15 TFLs to go along with his eight QB Hurries, two pass break ups, two forced fumbles, and fumble recovery.
NIU’s offense has been quite effective this season, which is something we haven’t seen out in DeKalb for quite some time. They are averaging 439.1 yards per game, which is the most since 2016 (463.8 yards/game) and they’re scoring 31.6 points per game which is the most since 2013, when Jordan Lynch was a Huskie and they averaged 39.6 points per game.
Solid quarterback play from Rocky Lombardi has certainly helped this offense get back on track. Lombardi now has 2,314 passing yards and 13 touchdowns while connecting on 58.6% of his throws. He does have seven interceptions, most of which came in one game (three against Wyoming), but has only been sacked seven times on the season.
Trayvon Rudolph, a freshman wide receiver, has been another big star for NIU. He now has a touchdown of 75-yards in three of the last four games (two receiving, one rushing) and broke the single-game MAC record for receiving yards when he had 309 yards against Kent State. On the season he leads NIU in receptions (44), receiving yards (827), and TDs (7) and also has 106 rushing yards and a score on the ground as well.
With Tyrice Richie still doubtful for the rest of the year, Cole Tucker will be the second receiver for NIU. He now has 33 grabs for 458 yards and two TDs.
Despite solid passing numbers, the ground game has still been NIU’s bread and butter. They are 11th in the NCAA in rushing, with 228.2 yards per game, and are close to having five players reach 300 yards rushing.
Jay Ducker has come on strong over the past month and now leads the team in rushing yards (788), has an average of 5.2 yards per carry, and has found the endzone three times. Clint Ratkovich is a powerful fullback-type runner that can also churn forward for yards, as he has a team-high ten rushing touchdowns and 327 yards on his 85 carries. Harrison Waylee and Lombardi are the other Huskies over 300-yards - Waylee, who is still out with an injury, has 574 yards and four TDs while Lombardi has 390 yards and five scores. But Antario Brown has a chance to join them, as he has 281 yards on his 50 carries.
On defense, NIU has allowed teams to move freely for the first three quarters, as they are giving up 435.8 yards and 32.7 points per game. However, they have shined in the fourth quarter/overtime and have out-scored their opponents 114-64 in the final 15 minutes of the game.
Teams have found success rushing as well as passing against NIU as the Huskie defense allows 225.7 passing yards and 210.1 rushing yards per game. But the Huskie game plan has been hold the ball on offense and the defense can’t/won’t give up points...which is why NIU is one of the nation’s leaders in time of possession, they rank eighth in the NCAA with an average t.o.p. of 33:41 per game.
C.J. Brown continues to lead the defense in tackles, as he is now up to 80 stops and has 2.5 TFL and a QBH as well.
A trio of linebackers have been real solid for NIU as well - Lance Deveaux Jr., Nick Rattin, and Dillon Thomas.
Deveaux Jr. is second in tackles, with 61, and has added six TFL (a team high), a sack, and a forced fumble. Thomas, a converted DB, has played much better in his new LB spot and now has 57 tackles, 5.5 TFL, three sacks, four QBH, and broken up three passes. Rattin leads the team in QBH, with six, and has 53 total tackles in addition to four TFL, a pass break up, and a forced fumble.
NIU could come out flat in this one, having already clinched the MAC West, and wanting to rest/save players for the MAC title game. However, the Broncos haven’t been playing well over the last few weeks, having dropped three of their last four, and don’t have much to play for...so who knows how motivated they’ll be.
Eleby and Moore should be able to move the ball against this Huskie defense, as NIU won’t get too much pressure on Eleby which will allow for Moore to find holes in the secondary.
The Huskie offense will need to use its balance to move the chains, as they have all season long. The O-line has protected Lombardi all season but it has a tough match up here with the pressure WMU gets. However, having a strong run game with two play-makers, Rudolph and Tucker, on the outside should be enough for NIU to counter the Broncos’ strong front.
As with every NIU game this season, it will most likely be a very close match up with the Huskies trailing early and then coming back in the later stages of the game.
And, with it being senior night on their home field, the Huskies should find a way to hold on to the ball just long enough to run out the clock and pick up their ninth win of the season.
WMU - 31
NIU - 35