The Eastern Michigan Eagles will play host to the Northern Illinois Huskies this Saturday in a crucial MAC West game.
The Eagles (4-2, 1-1 MAC) are looking to keep pace with Toledo and Ball State and need a win to keep their MAC Championship Game hopes alive. EMU has won three of their last four games and looked real good last weekend, crushing in-state rival Western Michigan 45-23.
NIU, on the other hand, is in dire need of a win if they want to salvage this season and even make a bowl game. The Huskies (1-5, 0-2 MAC) have now dropped five straight games despite having second half leads in three of those five contests. Last week the Toledo Rockets demolished Northern, 52-32, after backup quarterback Ethan Hampton threw four interceptions to the same player. But there is hope...as quarterback Rocky Lombardi may return to action this weekend.
When: Saturday, October 15th at 3:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m. CST)
Where: Rynearson Stadium - Ypsilanti, MI
Weather: Sunny and low 60s
Odds: EMU is favored by 2.5 points and has a 63.5% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI. The over/under is 66.
The Huskies and Eagles enter their 95th year of competition, first having met back in October of 1927. It was EMU that got off to a very strong start to the series, winning the first two games and going 9-5 in the first 14 meetings.
However, since 1959 the Eagles have won just seven games in the series. NIU has gone 29-7-2 over the last 63 season with streaks of 11, eight, and six games over the EMU.
It has been a very tight series as of late, with five of the last six games being one score games and three going to overtime.
In Ypsilanti, Northern holds a 16-8-1 record over the Eagles and has gone 9-1 in the last ten games at Rynearson Stadium. However, that one loss came in the Huskies last visit back in 2020. The average score when playing in Michigan has been NIU on top 25.0-16.6.
Points Allowed: 38.3
Yards Allowed: 422.2
The story of the Huskies this season has been the lack of defense...especially in the second half. NIU has had a second half lead in four of their six games and have blown that lead all but one time...their opening week win against FCS opponent Eastern Illinois, who still came back to make it a one-score game on the final drive.
Out of 131 NCAA FBS teams, NIU is 127th on third down defense, with opponents converting 50.6% of the time (40/79), 127th in red zone defense, 125th in scoring defense, 121st in passing yards allowed, and 105th in total defense.
Daveren Rayner has been one of the few bright spots on that defense. The linebacker has 60 total tackles (t-12th most in the country) and his ten tackles per game ranks 16th in the FBS.
The Huskies have been blitzing a lot this season, leading to 13 sacks already. Michael Kennedy leads the team with three sacks while Rayner and Demond Taylor each have two. However, those blitzes have led to NIU giving up huge passing plays. They have allowed 20 passing plays of 20+ yards this season...more than three per game.
It has been up to the Huskie offense to keep them in the game and, with backup quarterback Ethan Hampton, they haven’t been able to do that.
Last week was Hampton’s worst performance. While he threw for a career-high 298 yards, he also tossed four interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and end the game with a QBR of just 24.2. Hampton is now 72/122 (59%) with 798 yards and seven TDs but has thrown six interceptions and been sacked six times as well.
Cole Tucker has been the go-to receiver for NIU. He’s racked up 476 yards (35th best in the NCAA, 5th best in the MAC) and has three touchdowns on his 30 catches. But in the redzone, it has been Kacper Rutkiewicz that has done the most damage. The senior transfer has five receiving scores (t-most in the MAC) on his 16 grabs and has also netted 242 yards.
On the ground, the two headed moster of Harrison Waylee and Antario Brown has been somewhat more successful as of late. Waylee has been getting the bulk of the carries recently and leads the team in carries (97), yards (472), and rushing touchdowns (4, tied with Brown). Brown has 329 yards on his 66 rushes. Third string quarterback Justin Lynch has passed the century mark and is third on the team with 122 yards and two TDs on his 26 runs.
Points Allowed: 31.7
Yards Allowed: 392.5
The Eagles come into this game with very similar offensive stats to the Huskies. Both teams are neck and neck in points, total yards and passing yards per game.
Offensively, they are led by quarterback Taylor Powell. The senior QB is completing 66.1% of his throws and has 974 yards and seven touchdowns. However, he has thrown five interceptions and been sacked 11 times this season.
Tanner Knue and Darius Lassiter have been quite effective receivers for the Eagles. Knue is tied with Rutkiewicz with five receiving touchdowns and leads EMU with 23 grabs and 363 yards. Lassiter is close behind with 22 grabs for 254 yards and two scores.
Hassan Beydoun is another big time threat for EMU. He sits with 16 catches for 210 yards and a trio of TDs...but against this shaky NIU secondary, he could explode this week.
On the ground Samson Evans has been very good for EMU. He now has 630 yards and six touchdowns on his 116 carries. He’s 12th in the nation and leads the MAC in rushing yards and his six rushing scores is tied for first in the conference.
On defense, EMU looks to linebackers Chase Kline and Joe Sparacio. Kline has a team-high 53 tackles and has also broken up three passes and recorded two quarterback hurries while Sparacio has 34 stops, two TFL, and a PBU.
Up front NIU needs to watch out for Jose Ramirez. The defensive lineman is one of the best in the nation at getting pressure. He has 34 total tackles and leads the team in TFLs (8.5, t-12 most in the NCAA) and sacks (5, t-9th in the NCAA). He’s also forced a fumble and had four QBHs.
With Hampton playing for NIU, both teams are evenly matched on offense so it will come down to who has the better defense. And that is certainly not NIU.
If Rocky Lombardi is back for the Huskies (there’s talk he may see action...but we’ll have to wait until the game to see), NIU might have a chance in this one.
As it stands, this Huskie defense will probably give up plenty of yardage and points to this successful passing attack. Either Beydoun or Knue (or both) will have a big day against this porous NIU secondary.
NIU Huskies - 31
EMU Eagles - 41