The Northern Illinois Huskies welcome the Maine Black Bears to DeKalb this Saturday afternoon, as they look to bounce back from last week’s 63-10 loss to the Michigan Wolverines. It will be the first time the Huskies have played an FCS squad since beating Illinois State on August 31st, 2019 - Thomas Hammock’s first game as head coach.
Maine comes into this week’s game already having faced two of the top-5 FCS schools - Delaware and James Madison - before playing, and beating, Merrimack College last week. This will be the first game against an FBS opponent for Maine since they lost 59-44 to Liberty back in October of 2019.
When: Saturday, September 25th at 2:30 p.m (1:30 p.m. CST)
Where: Huskie Stadium — DeKalb, IL
Weather: Low 70s and sunny
Odds: No line as of 9/21 but NIU has a 91.3% chance of winning according to ESPN’s FPI
The Black Bears (1-2)
Last week: 31-26 win over Merrimack College
Head Coach: Nick Charlton (3rd season, 9-10)
Maine has struggled to score points, only averaging 20.7 points and 270.7 yards per game. However, the second quarter has belonged to the Black Bears, with 36 of their 62 points (58%) coming in that middle frame.
They have also struggled to convert on third-downs, moving the chains just 26.83% of the time (11/41). But, should they make it down the field, they are a perfect five-for-five on drives that reach the redzone - three field goals and two touchdowns.
Their starting quarterback, Joe Fagnano, was hurt in their game against James Madison two weeks ago and is out indefinitely with an high ankle injury so they turned to redshirt freshman Derek Robertson. Robertson, in seven quarters so far this season, has completed just 42.2% of his passes (19/45) and thrown for 229 yards and two touchdowns. He has also thrown an interception and faced heavy pressure, as opponents have already racked up seven sacks and four QB hurries against both Maine quarterbacks.
Five players have 80 or more receiving yards for the Black Bears. Andre Miller leads the team with 110 yards on nine catches (second most) and is one of four wide outs that have scored a touchdown. Right behind Miller are Devin Young and Shawn Bowman, who both have 83 yards on twelve and five catches, respectfully.
On the ground the Black Bears are netting just 2.6 yards per rush. Elija Barnwell leads the way with 172 yards on 43 carries (4.0/carry) and has found the endzone one time. But Maine will also use Freddie Brock as well. Brock has 22 rushes for 78 yards and a TD but has also added yards in the passing game, catching four passes for 80 yards and adding a score as well.
Maine’s defense has already played some tough competition from the FCS. And, while their defense has played well against the run, allowing just 3.7 yards per carry, the Black Bears secondary has been giving up 13.57 yards per catch and over 307 passing yards per game.
Fofie Bazzie, a senior defensive back, leads the team with 31 tackles and his four pass break ups accounts for nearly a third of the team’s PBU.
The secondary might be giving up yardage but they have also done a nice job of defending passes. Teams have thrown it 109 times against Maine and eight different players have broken up a pass (they are averaging five PBU per game) and two have snagged interceptions so far.
Linebackers Ray Miller and Adrian Otero have also played well. They have combined for 42 tackles and five TFL. Miller sits in second, with 24 stops and 2.5 TFL, but has also added an interception, a QB hurry, and has half a sack.
The Black Bears have also struggled to get into the backfield, netting just six TFL, one sack, and two QB Hurries as a team this season.
The Huskies (1-2)
After a terrible performance against a top-25 team last week that saw the Huskies net just 208 yards (and only 46 passing!), NIU will look to reset and get their offense back on track against a team that’s allowing more than 38 points and 425 yards per game.
Harrison Waylee has been the major bright spot for the Huskies so far. The freshmen running back entered last week third in the nation in rushing yardage. But, after gaining just 34 yards on 12 carries against the Wolverines, he dropped eight spots; as his 357 yards have him ranked 11th in the NCAA.
Quarterback Rocky Lombardi finished last week’s game with a mere 46 yards on 9-17 passing last week. He did throw a touchdown and an interception. He is now 39/70 (55.7%) on the season and has 415 yards with four scores and four picks. However, Lombardi also showed he can move the ball on the ground as well, rushing seven times for 72 yards against Michigan. He now has one more rushing yard (95), than Clint Ratkovich (94), although Ratkovich has three rushing touchdowns.
Tyrice Richie has now gone over 100 yards on the season, as he leads the team in receptions (10) and receiving yards (105) but is still looking for his first touchdown of the year. Behind Richie, Cole Tucker and Trayvon Rudolph have been the other main targets. Tucker has 92 yards on eight grabs while Rudolph has 79 yards on five catches. Each has a touchdown.
The defense was slaughtered last week to the tune of 606 yards (233 passing and 373 rushing) and gave up 9.3 yards per play.
The linebackers continue to lead the Huskie defense. Lance Deveaux Jr. still leads the team in tackles, now having 28 stops. He also has a pair of tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry. In second place, Nick Rattin has made 22 tackles and added four QBH, a TFL, and broken up a pass. Daveren Rayner now sits tied for third place, with 19 total tackles, and also has a sack and a TFL.
Up front NIU will look to get pressure witha couple of Thomas’s - Raishein and Dillon Thomas. Raishein has 12 stops, two hurries, 1.5 TFL, half a sack, and forced a fumble on the season while Dillon has five tackles, a sack, and is tied for first on the team with two TFLs that have pushed opponents back 19 yards.
The Huskies should be able to run away with this one. However, with Maine playing well against the run, the Huskies offense might look sluggish and slow for a little while.
Lombardi will hopefully be given some opportunities to throw the ball early against this porous Black Bear secondary and get NIU down the field, leading to a more heavy rushing attack later in the game. However, knowing Hammock, it wouldn’t shock me to see NIU run on the first ten plays of the game.
NIU certainly has the talent, size, and depth to win this game. It will hopefully allow the Huskies to finetune their offense and re-motivate the defense before heading into conference play next weekend.
Maine - 14
NIU - 38