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2022 MAC Football Week 6 Game Preview: Toledo Rockets at NIU Huskies

The Huskies look to stop a four-game skid and get back in the win column against one of their biggest rivals

Northern Illinois v Kentucky Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

It homecoming weekend for the Northern Illinois Huskies and they will host on of their biggest MAC rivals - the Toledo Rockets - on Saturday afternoon.

The Rockets (3-2, 1-0 MAC) bounced back last weekend, easily handiling Central Michigan in their MAC opener 38-17. It broke a two game losing streak in which the Rockets were outscored 94-31.

Northern Illinois (1-4, 0-1 MAC) will look to end their four game skid after falling to Ball State in double overtime last weekend. The Huskies have played the last few weeks without starting quarterback Rocky Lombardi and have still done well offensively with their backups...however, the defense that has given up double digit leads in the second half in two of the last three games.

Game Info:

When: Saturday, October 8th at 3:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m. CST)
Where: Huskie Stadium - DeKalb, IL
Watch: ESPN+
Weather: Sunny and mid 60s
Odds: Toledo is favored by 5.5 points and has a 67% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI. The over/under is 60.

The Rockets dominated this series early on, winning nine of the first ten meeting and going 28-7 over the first 35 games. It wasn’t until the mid-to-late 2000s that the Huskies have made this a competitive series. In fact, since 2008 the Huskies actually lead the series, having a 10-4 record over Toledo, which included their six straight wins from 2010-2015.

At Huskie Stadium, as the game is this weekend, the Rockets have a slim lead in the series. They are 12-10 in the previous 22 meeting in DeKalb, winning by an average score of 24-22.5.

The Rockets

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 01 Central Michigan at Toledo Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Quick Stats
Points/Game: 33.0
Yards: 395.6
Passing: 202.2
Rushing: 193.4

Points Allowed: 24.2
Yards Allowed: 339.2
Passing: 183.0
Rushing: 156.2

The Rockets defense has been great this year against teams not named Ohio State. In the game against the Buckeyes, Toledo surrendered 77 the other four games, Toledo gave up a combined 44 points and has yet to allow a non-B1G team to score more than 17 points in a game.

Opponents are just 29/82 on third downs. The 35.37% is third best in the MAC, behind WMU and CMU.

Up front, Toledo has managed to get seven sacks and 32 total tackles for loss, so they can get some pressure but not a ton. Linebacker Adrian Woliver leads the team with two of his six tackles being sacks. Defensive Tackle, Desjuan Johnson tops all Rockets with 6.5 tackles for loss and his 24 total tackles ranks fourth on the team.

The Rockets have a pair of linebackers that have been all over the field - Dallas Gant and Dyontae Johnson. Gant tops all players with 42 total tackles and also has three pass break ups, 1.5 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble. Johnson’s 31 stops is second best on the team and he has added three PBU, two TFL, and also forced and recovered a fumble.

Maxen Hook, Quinyon Mitchell, and Zachary Ford patrol the secondary. Mitchell, a cornerback, has broken up a team-leading four passes this season already while Ford has a pair. Hook is third on the team with 26 tackles and also has two TFL, a sack, and a PBU.

Offensively Toledo is very balanced - passing for 1011 yards and rushing for 967. However, most of their scores have come via the run, as they have 13 rushing touchdowns to just eight passing TDs.

Quarterback Dequan Finn has been solid, throwing for 967 yards and eight touchdowns with a 59.2% completion rate. However, he has been sacked seven times and thrown five interceptions already. Finn is also the team’s leading rusher - adding 336 yards and five scores on the ground as well. He’s averaging 6.9 yards on his 49 carries.

Finn’s main targets when throwing have been DeMeer Blankumsee and Jerjuan Newton. Blankumsee leads the team in receptions and yards, with 341 yards and a single TD on 29 catches. Newton has 251 yards and a pair of scores on his 13 catches. Tight end Jamal Turner is a threat in the redzone, as he tops all Rockets with his three passing TDs and has gained 107 yards on eight total catches.

If Finn decides to hand it off, there are three options - Jacquez Stuart, Micah Kelly, and Peny Boone. Stuart is second to only to Finn in carries (48) and yards (277) and has two TDs. Kelly has 43 carries for 133 yards while Boone has 123 yards on 31 rushes.

The Huskies

Northern Illinois v Kentucky Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Quick Stats
Points/Game: 31.6
Yards: 394.2
Passing: 209.4
Rushing: 184.8

Points Allowed: 35.6
Yards Allowed: 436.8
Passing: 311.8
Rushing: 125.0

Like the Rockets, the Huskies offense has been (surprisingly) balanced. NIU has passed for 1047 yards and rushed for 924 yards with 11 passing TDs and ten on the ground.

As of writing this there has been no official word on whether quarterback Rocky Lombardi will return for the Huskies this week or if Ethan Hampton will get the nod for the third straight game.

However, both players have put up similar numbers. Lombardi is completing 65% of his throws for 530 yards and five TDs and zero sacks with a single interception. Hampton is now at 514 yards and five scores with a completion rate of 57.5%. However he has thrown two picks and been sacked four times. Justin Lynch has also seen action at QB, although he has yet to attempt a pass...instead he is following in his brother’s footsteps and has 22 carries for 110 yards and rushing TD - third on the team in each of those categories.

No matter who the quarterback is, the Huskies will rely on Cole Tucker and transfer Kacper Rutkiewicz. Tucker leads the team and is third in the MAC with 420 receiving yards and also has three touchdowns. Rutkiewicz is tied atop the MAC with his five touchdown fact, more than a third of his grabs have gone for a score. He has 13 catches, 214 yards, and five TDs on the season. Shemar Thornton, if he plays, adds another option for the Huskies. He’s been out with a leg injury but has 14 snags totaling 156 yards.

The ground game has been picking up lately, with Harrison Waylee breaking through. Last week Waylee ran for 230 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries (7.7/rush). He now leads the team, and is fourth in the MAC, with 445 rushing yards and four scores. Antario Brown is second with 245 yards and has three touchdowns.

NIU has struggled defensively, giving up more than 35 points and 430 yards per game. Most of the damage has come via the air, with opponents torching the secondary to the tune of 311.8 passing yards per game, and on third downs.

The Huskies entered last weekend dead last in the FBS on third down defense. They did better against Ball State in the first half but struggled once again in the second, letting the Cardinals erase a 17-point deficit and win in double overtime. NIU was able to climb out of the cellar, reaching 129th out of the 131 teams on 3rd Down Defense. However, they still allow foes to convert 52.9% of the time (37/70), which is only better than Bowling Green and Colorado.

Daveren Rayner has been the bright spot on defense. He leads the team with 51 total tackles, which is 3rd in the MAC and 15th best in the NCAA. His 10.2 tackles per game also ranks 15th in the nation. He also has 3 quarterback hurries, 1.5 TFLs, and a sack.

NIU has been blitzing a bunch this year, which has allowed them to tally 11 sacks so far. Last season they only managed 19 sacks in 14 games, so they’re on pace to easily surpass that stat.

They have also been able to force turnovers, snagging five interceptions and recovering three fumbles while only committing three turnovers themselves. Their +4 turnover margin is tied for 28th best in the NCAA and 2nd in the MAC. The Huskies are the only 1-4 team to have a +3 turnover margin and create .5 or more turnovers per game.

However it has also allowed plenty of big plays. Northern has given up 17(!!!) passing plays of 20+ yards. And another handful on the ground as well. Big plays have doomed the Huskies, especially in the second half of games.


NIU came into this season as the favorites to repeat as MAC Champs. However, after losing two of their best receivers, two starting cornerbacks, a offensive lineman, and their starting quarterback, the Huskies have not been able to keep the magic going...despite leading in every game this season.

The Rockets offense should be able to tear up the secondary, as eveyone else has done...even if they do turn it over a few times, they’ll find the endzone on quite a few possessions.

It will come down to whether the Huskie offense can keep up with the Rockets...and with how great the Toledo defense has been most of this season, it doesn’t look good for NIU - whether it’s Lombardi OR Hampton.

Huskies have a chance, as they always are fired up for this game and it’s homecoming...but after the last few weeks, it’s looking like Toledo should roll.

Toledo Rockets - 42
NIU Huskies - 24