The Northern Illinois Huskies football program has what could be their biggest -and most important- game of the season this week. On Saturday, NIU (1-0) will travel to Ryan Field in Evanston to take on the Northwestern Wildcats (0-1) in a game that could dictate the rest of the season for both teams. This is the chance for the Huskies to prove that last week’s victory was no fluke.
It’s also a chance for them to continue their string of victories against the Big Ten, and it’s a chance for them to make a statement to the committee that will decide who plays in the first-ever College Football Playoff in January. But it all starts this Saturday (kickoff at 2:30pm), and NIU has every reason to believe that they can win this matchup Especially since NU is in a must-win mode after their disappointing 31-24 loss at home against California last week.
From an offensive standpoint:
The Huskies ran for 424 yards and conducted a school record 109 plays against Presbyterian last week. Granted it was against a struggling FCS program, but it gives the Huskies a ton of confidence and gives Northwestern something to think about. The most freighting part about the success of their run game is that their best running back, senior Cameron Stingley, is out with an injury.
Northern Illinois also has three quarterbacks –Matt McIntosh, Drew Hare, and Anthony Maddie– who are fully capable of guiding this no-huddle, high octane offense into the end zone. Ideally, you want only one quarterback operating your offense. But since head coach Rod Carey‘s team scored with all three signal-callers, the Wildcats should not underestimate this program.
The Wildcat defense just did not have an answer for the Golden Bears offense last weekend. They couldn’t rush the passer, couldn’t cover Cal’s receivers down field and were completely caught off guard when the boys from Berkeley ran the ball. Running the ball is the key to victory for Northern Illinois this weekend. They need to take advantage of a weakened Northwestern defense that has difficulty controlling gaps and lacks confidence. The best way to do so is to wear out and tire NU’s defense.
From a defensive standpoint:
The Huskies defense has only allowed three points and 127 yards in this young season. They also have two sacks, forced two turnovers and play an extremely disciplined, gap control style of football. For them it’s a matter of which one of Northwestern’s weaknesses do they plan to exploit. Their quarterback, Trevor Siemian, didn’t do a whole lot to impress against Cal. Siemian completed only half of his passes (23-of-44), threw two interceptions, lacked accuracy, and just couldn’t find a rhythm.
Plus, their offense is still reeling from the loss of it’s best running back, Venric Mark, and their best wide receiver Christian Jones. They have yet to fill those voids and NIU aims to complicate matters in their favor. The defensive key to victory for Northern is to exploit those same offensive flaws, pressure Siemian, and force turnovers yet again.
The Huskies have proven that they can play bigger schools, beat bigger schools, and rock the college football world. This is another opportunity do to so, and it’s an opportunity they can’t afford to waste. Follow me on Twitter @GabeSalgado82