The Northern Illinois Huskies and Ball State Cardinals will meet this Saturday in their annual rivalry game, with the winner taking home the Bronze Stalk Trophy.
Northern Illinois (1-3, 0-0 MAC), will be looking to snap a three lame losing streak after playing to SEC teams, losing their starting quarterback, and narrowly falling to a top-10 Kentucky Wildcats team last weekend.
The Cardinals (1-3, 0-1 MAC) return home after falling to Georgia Southern last week. Ball State stayed with the Eagles for most of the game, even taking the lead early in the fourth quarter. But a pair of late touchdowns were too much to overcome as the Georgia Southern ended up with a 34-23 win.
When: Saturday, October 1st at 2:00 p.m. (1:00 p.m. CST)
Where: Scheumann Stadium - Muncie, IN
Weather: Low 70s and cloudy
Odds: NIU is favored by 3.5 points and has a 56.9% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI. The over/under is 60.5.
This is the 50th meeting all-time between NIU and Ball State. The school’s first met back in October of 1941 with the inaugural game ending in a 6-6 tie. It was one of just two ties in the series.
The series started off slowly, as the teams met in 1941 and 1942 but then not again for 24 years, finally playing again in the mid 1960s. They met every year from 1966 through 1988 (with the exception of 1972) and have now met every season since 1997, when NIU rejoined the MAC.
The Huskies had a great early run in the series, going 6-1-2 over the first nine, only losing in 1942.
But the Cardinals came storming back and crushed it in the 70s, 80s, and late 90s. From 1974-1999 Ball State went 16-2 against the Huskies, only losing in 1983 and 1999. They had winning streaks of nine and seven games over the Huskies during that point.
However, since the turn of the new millennium, the Huskies have retaken control of the series. NIU has gone 17-5 over the last 23 games, including a series-high ten game winning streak from 2009-2018.
After losing two in a row to Ball State in 2019 and 2020, NIU reclaimed the Bronze Stalk last season after a dramatic last-second field goal gave the Huskies the win...and fans one of the best kicker celebrations of all-time.
NIU kicker John Richardson celebrates the only way one should celebrate when kicking the game-winning field goal to win the Bronze Stalk pic.twitter.com/duuAtEcWaB— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) November 11, 2021
Points Allowed: 33.5
Yards Allowed: 426.0
NIU will look to get senior quarterback Rocky Lombardi back after hearing he progressed a lot last week. The Huskies lost Lombardi during the first half of their game with Vanderbilt and, last week against Kentucky, he didn’t even dress for the game. Lombardi this season is 39/60 (65%) with 530 yards and six TDs to just one interception.
However, should he still be unavailable this weekend, NIU will go with Ethan Hampton who played great against the Wildcats last week. Hampton is now 25/44 (56.8%) with 320 yards and three touchdowns to one interception.
Regardless of who’s under center, they’ll be looking for wide receiver Cole Tucker...especially with the injury to Shemar Thornton last week. Thornton went down in the second half of last week’s game with an apparent knee injury. As of writing this, there has been no official update on Thornton, and he is still listed on the two-deep but I am doubtful that he will play much - if at all - against Ball State.
Tucker leads the team with his 18 catches, 333 yards and three TDs. His 333 yards is the most in the MAC and 31st in the NCAA, while his average of 18.5 yards per catch is 3rd in the MAC and 40th in the nation.
Without Thornton, who has 156 yards and 14 grabs this season, NIU will rely on Kacper Rutkiewicz, Fabian McCray, and the tight ends to step up. Rutkiewicz has seven receptions for 125 yards and a pair of scores while McCray has six grabs for 91 yards. Tight end Tristen Tewes played a big role last week, scoring twice, and bringing his totals up to seven receptions for 39 yards.
Harrison Waylee and Antario Brown continue to split time in the backfield for NIU. Waylee leads in carries, with 54, while Brown edges him out in yardage. Brown has 47 carries for 240 yards while Waylee sits at 215. Brown also has three touchdowns to Waylee’s one.
The rushing attack hasn’t been too effective this season. NIU is only averaging 148 yards per game...a number much lower than expected after last season when they netted almost 100 yards more per game on the ground, ending the season with 241.5 yards per game.
The Huskies have been getting a lot more pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season. After netting just 19 sacks all of last season, the Huskies have already registered ten in the first four game, including a massive five sack performance against Kentucky last weekend.
NIU has also forced six turnovers this season, three interceptions and three fumble recoveries. The three picks already ties them for what they had in all 14 games last season. Their turnover margin of +4 is tied for 20th best in the NCAA.
Defensively Daveren Rayner has been great for NIU this season. The linebacker leads the team in tackles, with 42, and also has 1.5 TFL, and a sack.
Defensive backs C.J. Brown, Muhammad Jammeh, and Jordan Gandy have anchored the backfield but there is still a lot of work to do in the secondary, which is giving up 289 yards through the air per game. Brown has 31 stops and two pass break ups, while Jammeh has 16 stops, a pick, and a PBU. Gandy is right behind him with 15 tackles, two PBU, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
Points Allowed: 32.5
Yards Allowed: 408.8
The Cardinals 440.5 yards per game puts them second in the MAC but their 23.5 points is just 9th out of the 12 teams and 102nd in the NCAA. So they’re moving the ball, they just can’t capitalize as much as they need to.
Ball State has also turned it over six times (four picks, two fumbles lost) and allowed 21 points off those turnovers. Conversely, they’ve only scored 10 points on their six takeaways.
Quarterback John Paddock has tossed the rock relatively well, already crossing the 1000-yard mark. He’s completing 63.4% of his throws and gained 1135 yards and eight TDs while tossing four interceptions. He’s only been sacked once but is not much of a threat to run, having just four carries for -6 yards with a long of 2.
Carson Steele, on the other hand, is averaging 5.0 yards per carry and leads the MAC with his 424 yards. He also has two TDs on his 85 touches.
Five Cardinals have gained 100+ yards through the air, with two of them netting more than 200. Jayshon Jackson trails only Cole Tucker in the MAC for receiving yards, as he has 331 yards and two TDs on his 28 grabs. Yo’Heinz Tyler has snagged 24 passes for 225 yards with Amir Abdur-Rahman closing in on him. Abdur-Rahman has 182 yards on 17 catches.
Tanner Koziol and Brady Hunt are the others over a century, with Koziol sitting at 136 and a team-leading three TDs on his 13 catches and Hunt gaining 116 yards and a score on his nine grabs.
Ball State has four DBs that will be all over the field - Jordan Riley, Malcom Lee, Jaquan Amos, and Nic Jones. Riley is second on the team with 23 stops, leads the team with six PBU, two TFL, and a sack. Lee and Amos are right behind him with 22 tackles each. Lee has forced a fumble and gotten a QBH while Amos has a team-leading three TFLs, a QBH, and a pass break up. Jones might only have seven tackles but he’s a ball hawk...netting five break ups and snagging two of BSU’s three interceptions this season.
The Huskie offense will also need to look out for linebackers Clayton Coll, Cole Pierce, and Sidney Houston Jr.. The trio has amassed 67 tackles (with Coll’s 29 tackles leading the team), 5.5 TFL, two PBU, and two quarterback hurries.
More often than not the Huskies and Cardinals have close ball games. Five of the last six games have ended within one-score, including the last four meetings.
Paddock and the Cardinal offense shouldn’t have too much of an issue getting yards against the porous Huskie secondary. But NIU should be able to get a few stops and force some field goals as most opponents against BSU have done, limiting the damage some.
If Lombardi is back for NIU, that should open up more options and give the Huskie offense a big boost. However, even if Hampton returns as the starter, Northern looks like they’ll be able to keep moving the ball...as they showed against a stout SEC defense last week.
The game will come down to whether NIU’s defense can get stops, especially in the second half.
After holding the eighth-ranked team in the nation to just 31 points and a one-score game, the Huskie defense should be riding with a huge confidence boost. I would look for them to come out fired up and ready to keep the Bronze Stalk in DeKalb for another season.
NIU - 34
Ball State - 28