The Northern Illinois Huskies, who are still probably coming down from the high of beating Nebraska two weeks ago, will need to focus as they head to SoCal for a match up with the #19 team in the country, the San Diego State Aztecs.
These two teams met last year with the Aztecs claiming a 42-28 victory at Huskie Stadium. San Diego State hasn’t slowed down much, even after losing star running back Donnel Pumphrey to the NFL...but the Huskies are a much improved team from a year ago.
Daniel Santacaterina will get his thrid start of the season, and forth overall, in tomorrows contest as Ryan Graham is still hurting from a big hit he took in the game against Boston College.
Week 1: 38-17 win over UC-Davis
Week 2: 30-20 win at Arizona State
Week 3: 20-17 win over (#19) Stanford
Week 4: 28-24 win at Air Force
There are two games that stand out on that list so far...a big win against ASU and an even bigger one against then-ranked Stanford! These guys are good...there’s no doubt about that. But, luckily, NIU is coming off a bye-week and a big win in a hostile environment so they know how to handle the pressure themselves.
San Diego State uses their amazing run game to move the ball and that sets up big pass plays...so yeah, they can beat you both ways.
Senior running back Rashaad Penny is garnering national attention as an Heisman candidate so far as he has racked up 716 yards in just 91 carries and has 7 scores (including a 95-yard TD run against ASU). The 5’11, 220 pound back is both powerful and fast so bringing him down will be a challenge for NIU. Luckily, the Huskies run defense has been amazing so far this year, allowing just 2.2 yards per carry and less than 98 yards per game on the ground. We’ll see if that will hold up against Penny, who is the best running back we’ll see this season. Plus he’s second on the team with 12 receptions and third in receiving yards (87)...so he’s even a threat catching the ball.
When Penny doesn’t carry the ball, Christian Chapman does well hitting his receivers. Chapman has completed two thirds of his pass attempts (56/84) for 660 yards and five TDs with just one interception. He doesn’t make bad throws, is pretty accurate, and will use play action a lot to get his receivers open. Look for him to go to Penny, Mikah Holder, or Kahale Warring. Holder leads the team in receptions (13) and yards (157) while Warring is second in yards (135) and third in catches (9).
The Huskie linebackers and secondary will need to play like they did against the Cornhuskers if they want to slow the passing attack down...staying on top of receivers without committing penalties and forcing a few turnovers when the opportunities arise.
Sadly, the Aztec defense is just as good as their offense. SDSU is only allowing 124 rushing yards per game (3.5 yards per rush), 167 passing yards per game, and a mere 19.5 points per game.
And it’s a total team effort as nine players have 12+ tackles. They are led by a pair of safeties, Parker Baldwin and Trey Lomax. Baldwin leads all tacklers with 27, while Lomax is right behind him with 25...but Lomax also has a TFL and a pick.
The Aztec front four really get good pressure...and they do it with ease. They have 10 sacks already (with three players have two or more) and 26 tackles for a loss! Noble Hall is a beast up front...the junior D-lineman has 15 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, a QB hurry, and has forced two fumbles.
The Huskie O-line will need to lock on to him as well as look out for cornerback Kameron Kelly blitzing from the edge. Kelly has two sacks and three TFLs in addition to his 19 tackles and interception.
Overall, this is a defense that gets to the quarterback and running backs quickly and from all angles. NIU’s line will need to play extremely well and our offense should look for quick hitters and screen passes to slow down the aggressive Aztec defense.
Where: San Diego County Credit Union Stadium (San Diego, CA)
When: Saturday, September 30th at 9:30 PM CST (7:30 PST)
Weather: Clear and around 70 degrees at kickoff, dropping no lower than 65 as the game goes on. Winds are expected to be mild, at 10 MPH.
TV: CBSSports Network