After snapping a five game losing skid last week, the Northern Illinois Huskies will look to win two in a row as they square off against the Ohio Bobcats this Saturday.
The Bobcats (4-3, 2-1 MAC) have won two in a row, beating up on Akron and Western Michigan in back-to-back weekends. Ohio has looked real good the past few weeks, winning by 21 and 19 respectively, and are just one game behind the Buffalo Bulls for the top spot in the MAC East.
The Huskies (2-5, 1-2 MAC) got starting quarterback Rocky Lombardi back from injury last week and the offense (and defense) rolled, as NIU claimed their first MAC win of the year with a 39-10 thumping of Eastern Michigan.
When: Saturday, October 22th at 2:00 p.m. (1:00 p.m. CST)
Where: Peden Stadium - Athens, OH
Weather: Partially cloudy and low 60s
Odds: NIU is favored by 3 points but Ohio has a 53.4% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI. The over/under is 65.5.
These two teams haven’t met too many times in cross-division match ups, with this being just the 24th meeting all-time between the Huskies and Bobcats.
Ohio started off the series with a bang, winning the first three contests against the Huskies. However, after the 1976 games, Northern would bounce back and go on the longest win streak in the series - claiming seven straight victories from 1977 through 1983.
The Bobcats would bounce back and claim six of the next eight meetings and, in 2009, drew the series even at nine wins apiece. Over the past dozen season, the Huskies have reclaimed the lead though, winning four of the last five meetings, including the previous two match ups in 2018 and 2019.
The games have been close historically and that trend has continued, with each of the last six contests ending within one score.
In Athens, the Bobcats have a slight advantage, with a 7-5 record. The average score when playing at Ohio University is OU 26.4, NIU 21.2.
Points Allowed: 34.3
Yards Allowed: 394.1
After five straight losses and three games without Rocky Lombardi, the Huskies got him back and got themselves back in the win column. Their 39-10 victory was the most complete game they had all season and their defense finally showed up to play.
The Huskies allowed a 75-yard touchdown pass on EMU’s second possession of the game but, outside of that one play, NIU gave up just 151 yards the rest of the game - holding the Eagles to 226 total yards and just 29 yards on the ground.
Their offense also clicked with a mixture of Lombardi and Justin Lynch in the backfield and some wildcat runs from harrison Waylee and Antario Brown. Lombardi was 11/15 in his return and threw for 115 yards, bringing his season stats to 645 yards and five TDs to one interception with a completion rate of 66.7%.
Justin Lynch, while known as the “running QB” threw his first pass of the season, an eight yard completion, in addition to rushing for 38 yards last week. He now has 160 rushing yards and two rushing scores in addition to his eight passing yards.
Wide out Cole Tucker is fifth in the MAC with 536 receiving yards and also has three TDs on his 34 receptions. Kacper Rutkiewicz is second in the conference with five touchdown catches, only trailing Toledo’s Newton. Rutkiewicz now has 284 yards on his 19 catches.
The tag team duo of Brown and Waylee on the ground has been picking up steam, with Waylee really crushing it as of late. Waylee is fourth in the MAC, and 22nd in the NCAA, with 630 yards rushing. He also has five touchdowns and has gone for 150+ yards in two of the last three games. Brown has 415 yards and a team-leading six rushing TDs on his 83 touches.
On defense Daveren Rayner is still one of the nations leading tacklers. His 64 total stops is tied for 19th most in the NCAA and he’s averaging 9.1 stops per game. He also has three sacks, which is second on the team.
Leading the way up front is Devonte O’Malley, who has 3.5 sacks for -40 yards. The secondary is led by C.J. Brown, whose 49 tackles is second best on the team. Brown also has three pass break ups (team-high), an interception and a fumble recovery.
Points Allowed: 36.9
Yards Allowed: 528.6
Like the Huskie defense, the Bobcats defense has been very susceptible to giving up yardage and, at times, points this season. Kent State torched Ohio for 736 yards, Akron gained 478, and FCS team Fordham netted 640 total yards.
However, the defense has forced 14 turnovers (six interceptions, eight fumble recoviers), which is tenth best in all of college football. Their turnover margin of +6 is also tied for 15th best in the NCAA. Add that with their offense netting over 430 yards per game of their own, and you have a team that can hang with, and beat, any opponent.
Their 437 total yards and 327 passing yards per game both lead the MAC, while their 113 rushing yard ranks tenth out of twelve. The Huskies and Bobcats 33.1 points per game are tied for second most in the conference, behind the Rockets’ 38.4 PPG.
Quarterback Kurtis Rourke has been dominant all season long, passing for 2208 yards so far which is eighth most in the FBS and tops the MAC by nearly 400 yards. He is completing an insane 70% of his passes and has 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions. However, Rourke has been sacked a dozen times.
Nine Bobcats have 100+ receiving yards this season already but it’s the fearsome four of Sam Wiglusz, Jacoby Jones, James Bostic, and Miles Cross that do the most damage. Wiglusz leads the team in receptions (43), yards (510), and TDs (5). Jones has 366 yards and a pair of scores on his 23 grabs. Bostic has added 357 yards and a TD on his 17 receptions (21 yards per catch) while Cross has 302 yards and a score on 26 receptions.
The ground game is led by Sieh Bangura, who has 433 yards and seven rushing touchdowns (third in the MAC) on his 97 carries. Nolan McCormick and Rourke will also run it, with McCormick carrying the rock 47 times for 189 yards while Rourke has taken off 49 times for 125 yards and three scores.
Their defensive line has a pair of beasts, as Jack McCrory and Vonnie Watkins each have 2.5 sacks, with McCrory tallying 23 total stops, forcing a fumble, recovering a fumble, and scoring a defensive TD. Watkins has 27 total tackles and has forced a fumble.
Linebackers Keye Thompson and Bryce Houston top the team in total tackles, with Thompson netting 50 stops and Houston sitting behind him at 33. The duo is also responsible for two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and interception, and a defensive touchdown
With these two high scoring offenses and porous defenses, this should be a high-scoring shootout. But, knowing how the MAC works...that means we’re probably in for a defensive battle.
Ohio should be able to torch the NIU secondary. But the Huskies are a much different team with Lombardi and, with Justin Lynch adding a run element from the QB position, the Huskies should be able to keep up with the Bobcats high flying passing attack.
If the Ohio defense can stop the NIU rushing attack, the Bobcats will claim their third straight win. However, if the Huskies are able to control the clock and keep Rourke off the field NIU should be able to run their way to their second consecutive win.
It’s hard to pick against the Huskies run game and the Lombardi led offense. In his three seasons in DeKalb, Hammock has shown that he can control the clock and win the time of possession battle. Huskies claim a nailbiter.
NIU Huskies - 38
Ohio Bobcats - 35