The Northern Illinois Huskies take to the road for the first time in 2022, as they travel 9.5 hours (670 miles) south to Tulsa, Oklahoma to square off against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.
NIU (1-0, 0-0 MAC) is coming off a close victory over Eastern Illinois. The Huskies saw their 28-6 lead evaporate in the second half but they were able to hold on to win 34-27. Tulsa was in a dogfight against Wyoming and, as the Huskies know all too well, those normally end up going the Cowboys way, as they claimed a 40-37 win over Tulsa in double overtime.
When: Saturday, September 10th at 6 p.m. CST
Where: Chapman Stadium — Tulsa, OK
Weather: Low 70s and partly cloudy at kickoff
Odds: Tulsa is favored by 6 points and has a 77.3% chance of winning according to ESPN’s FPI
This is the first meeting between these two schools all-time.
The Huskies don’t have much of a history with Oklahoma, having played just one game against a team from the Sooner State. Back in 1994 the Huskies hosted Oklahoma State in DeKalb where they fell to the Cowboys 31-14. Against current AAC teams NIU has done well, going 7-9. Northern last played an AAC team in 2016 when they fell to the USF Bulls.
Tulsa has a tad better record against the MAC, holding an 8-4 record against Mid-American opponents. They most recently met Toledo back in 2017 and suffered a 54-51 loss to the Rockets. The Golden Hurricane also have a great history against Illinois schools, going 13-2 over teams from the Land of Lincoln. However, this will be the first match up against an Illinois squad in 38 years, last playing Illinois State and Southern Illinois in 1984.
The Golden Hurricane
Last week Tulsa (0-1, 0-0 AAC) played in a back-and-forth game against the Wyoming Cowboys that went into double overtime. The Cowboys were able to erase a ten point fourth quarter deficit and steal a 40-37 victory when Tulsa missed a 43-yard field goal in the second overtime period.
Tulsa’s offense looked real good last weekend, exploding for 521 yards against Wyoming. The majority of their yards came via the pass - 460 through the air to just 61 yards rushing - which is not great news for the Huskies, who secondary is known for being a bit porous at times.
Quarterback Davis Brin completed 57.7% of his passes (30/52) for 460 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions. Brin was sacked four times in the loss though, so it is possible to get to him in the backfield. Last year he was just as solid, tossing for 3269 yards and 18 touchdowns with a 59% completion rate, although he did toss 16 interceptions in the 13 games last year.
He has a plethora of receivers to throw to, as four players had more than 50 receiving yards - Keylon Stokes, Malachai Jones, JuanCarlos Santana, and Isaiah Epps. Stokes led the team with eleven receptions and 169 yards but Jones and Santana weren’t far behind. Jones had six catches for 103 yards and a TD while Santana snagged seven passes for 102 yards and a score of his own. Epps finished the day with four grabs for 79 yards.
On the ground, the Golden Hurricane only managed 61 yards on 32 carries (1.9 yards per rush). Steven Anderson had the most touches, rushing it ten times for 40 yards and a score, with Jordan Ford getting 26 yards on his seven carries.
Despite those gaudy offensive numbers, Tulsa’s offense actually played a little sloppy last week - having a fumble returned for a touchdown, a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, losing another fumble late in the game, and missing a game-tying field goal attempt. If this team can correct those mistakes, they are going to be a very difficult out for the Huskies this Saturday.
Up front they struggled to get much pressure on Wyoming, getting just three TFLs and going without a quarterback hurry or a sack. However, they still held the Cowboys to just 3.9 yards per carry on the ground (143 yards on 37 attempts). Anthony Goodlow will be the biggest threat up front. Last season he led the team with six sacks and also had 28 total tackles, seven TFL, and two QBH.
Their secondary and linebackers came up and made most of the plays last week against Wyoming. Four of the team’s six leading tacklers were defensive backs, the other two were linebackers.
Justin Wright, a senior linebacker, will be all over the field. Last season he was tied for most tackles on the team, bringing down the ball carrier 82 times while also adding 5.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, a quarterback hurry, a pass break up, an interception, and forcing and recovering a fumble. Last Saturday he started right where he left off, leading the team in tackles with 13 (nine solo) and breaking up a pass.
Fellow linebacker Jon-Michael Terry is another player to watch out for in the middle. Last week he had six tackles and a fumble recovery and, in just four games last year, he was able to amass 15 stops, two TFL, and a sack.
Cornerback Tyon Davis is one to watch out for in the secondary. Last week he had five tackles and a pass break up and in 2021 he led the team with 10 PBU and was third on the team with 75 tackles (60 solo, leading the team).
Bryson Powers, the nickle safety, tallied eight tackles and forced a fumble last week while cornerback Tyree Carlisle and safety Kendarin Ray each had seven stops.
NIU’s offense looked alright for most of the game against Eastern Illinois. They were able to get the running game going initially, netting 187 yards and three scores on the ground, and pulling out to a 28-6 lead in the later stages of the third quarter.
Harrison Waylee continues to shine. He led the team with 83 yards on 14 carries and had a touchdown. Antario Brown added 70 yards and a score on his 13 carries and Mason Blakemore rounded out the trio with just five carries but had 35 yards and a TD on his limited touches.
Quarterback Rocky Lombardi looked solid, going 14/22 for 192 yards and a touchdown, but you could tell he was missing his big playmaker Trayvon Rudolph, who will miss the entire season.
Instead, Lombardi leaned on newcomer Shemar Thornton and veteran Cole Tucker. Thornton, a former FIU Panther, led the way with six grabs and 81 yards in his debut as a Huskie. Tucker snagged four passes for 67 yards. Three tight ends also got in on the action as Liam Soragham, George Gumbs, and Miles Joiner each had a reception. Soragham and Gumbs each had a 13-yard reception, with Soragham’s catch resulting in the only receiving score last week. Joiner added an 11-yard catch.
Eastern Illinois, an FCS squad, actually out-gained the Huskies last week, accumulating 441 yards to NIU’s 379, so Northern will need their defense to play much better this week if they’re going to steal a win from the Golden Hurricane.
Up front NIU got some pressure, dropping the Panther quarterback twice and netting four TFLs and two QBHs, but they’ll need to up that this week against an offense that can really throw the ball well.
Izayah Green-May, the former Wisconsin Badger, will hopefully be able to power through and get some stops. Last week he only managed a single tackle but did force one of those quarterback hurries.
Like the Golden Hurricane defense, the Huskies relied on their linebackers and DBs to get stops. Linebackers Daveren Rayner, Jaden Dolphin, and Kyle Pugh led the team with 14, nine, and eight tackles, respectively. Safety C.J. Brown was also right there, bringing down the ball carrier eight times as well.
The secondary did look improved from last year in some aspects, like forcing turnovers. In 2021 they managed just one interception in the regular season and had just three all year. But last weekend cornerback Eric Rogers had two interceptions in the first half alone.
However, the DBs didn’t even manage a single pass break up (the only PBU the Huskies had was by defensive lineman Ivan Davis), so they’ll need find ways to defend the pass better this week...especially on third down.
Stopping third downs and limiting big plays is another thing the Huskies defense needs to work on. Eastern Illinois had third-and-long (8+ yards) six times last week...the Panthers converted on four of their six tries. NIU’s defense needs to find a way to get off the field on those plays. The Huskie defense also gave up 13 passes of ten or more yards and five rushes of 10+ yards. Most of which happened in the final 30 minutes, with eight of the 13 passes and four of the five big rushes coming in the second half.
As most Huskie fans can attest, that Eastern game left us a little more nervous now than we were headed into the season. But you can never fully judge a team after just one week, as so many factors come into play in the first game of the season. I’m still high on the Huskies this season and think they’ll make the adjustments needed, as Coach Hammock did all of last year.
Tulsa didn’t play their best but still showed they have an insanely powerful offense that looks like it could give the Huskie secondary fits. However, the Huskies are a possession team through and through and, if they can hold on to the ball and run that clock down (as they did so many times last season), it’s not out of the realm that they keep Brin and company off the field.
The Huskies will need to get touchdowns instead of field goals on offense and, on defense, need to get some pressure up front and stick on those receivers.
It should be a close game between two offenses with very different looks. If NIU can force Tulsa into a few similar mistakes, like they had last week, while limiting their own...they can win this game.
NIU - 38
Tulsa - 35