Huskie Stadium - DeKalb, IL
Both teams have reached bowl eligibility and one has already laid claim to the MAC West title. Nonetheless, Tuesday's matchup between Western Michigan and Northern Illinois gives the pair a chance to add to their resume.
Northern Illinois, which had zero wins on its 2020 resume, already owns eight wins and the MAC West crown. It is riding a two-game win streak and has won seven of the Huskies last eight outings. The only loss conference loss was at Kent State, who would also be in the championship game if it defeats Miami Saturday.
Western Michigan has lost three of its last four, with the only victory in that span coming against Akron (45-40). The Broncos were edged last week 22-21 last week at Eastern Michigan. Yes, the Broncos are already bowl eligible, but another victory wouldn't hurt and who doesn't want to finish the regular season with a win.
Western Michigan holds a 26-20 advantage in the all-time series, although the Huskies own a 12-11 lead in games played in DeKalb and have not lost to the Broncos at home since 2007.
Four of the last five games between the teams have been decided by one possession or less, including NIU’s 17-14 win in 2019. WMU won 14 of the first 15 games of the series between 1950 and 1982, while the Huskies are 14-6 versus the Broncos since 2001.
Here's more on the two teams . . .
WESTERN MICHIGAN BRONCOS (6-5, 3-4 MAC)
>> Two late turnovers proved costly as the Broncos lost to Eastern Michigan 22-21 last week. WMU led 21-19 when Turan Rush forced a fumble that was recovered by Russell Baden IV at the Western Michigan 41. Six plays later, Chad Ryland's 20-yard field goals put the Eagles in front for good. WMU was intercepted on the ensuing drive and EMU ran out the remaining 2:24.
>> Western Michigan out-gained the Eagles 485-422 overall and had a 23-18 edge in first downs. The Broncos went 5 of 10 on third down conversion opportunities.
>> WMU sophomore quarterback Kaleb Eleby completed 22 of 29 pass attempts good for 307 yards with one TD and one INT. He is first among MAC QBs with an average of 252.5 ypg. and is fourth in passing efficiency (147.2).
>> Skyy Moore grabbed a game-high 12 receptions totaling 181 yards with one TD. That score was a 74-yard reception that gave WMU an early 7-0 lead. Moore is second among all MAC receivers, averaging 105 ypg. He tops the loop with 7.9 receptions per contest and has six TDs.
>> Moore's 7.9 receptions per game is sixth in the nation.
>> The Broncos totaled 178 yards rushing against EMU. La'Darius Jefferson and Sean Tyler combined for 22 carries and 138 yards.
>> WMU ranks second (MAC) in total defense (343.3 ypg) and sixth in scoring defense (29.3 ypg) It is first against the rush (136.1 ypg) and third defending the pass (207.2 ypg).
>> The Broncos have three of the top-four individual defensive players with tackles for loss in the conference. Ali Fayad leads the MAC with 15.0 TFLs, Ralph Holley is second with 13.5 TFLs, and Corvin Moment is fourth with 12.5 TFLs.
>> In Western Michigan’s six wins the season, opponents combined to go 16-for-73 on third downs, converting at just a 21.9 percent rate. On the season, opponents are 38-for-135 on third downs, 28.1 percent, good for fourth in the nation.
>> The trio of running backs Sean Tyler, La’Darius Jefferson and Jaxson Kincaide have combined for 1,987 yards on 380 attempts and 21 touchdowns, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
>> The Huskies out-gained Buffalo 505-384 last week, but were forced into overtime. The Bulls reached NIU's 1-yard but fumbled on the next play. Northern Illinois quickly capitalized with a 25-yard TD run by Clint Ratkovich on the Huskies next play.
>> The Huskies have seven one-score wins in 2021. Nine of the eleven games played so far were one-score decisions.
>> Including the one-play overtime possession at Buffalo, the Huskies have put together eight “late” scoring drives to either win a game, or to end a half, with less than a minute on the clock, this season. NIU has recorded five game-winning scores with less than
a minute to play.
>> NIU’s ability to win close games has come down to its ability to outscore its opponents late in games. NIU has nearly doubled up on its opponents in the fourth quarter and overtime with 114 points compared to 64 for its opponents. The Huskies’ top scoring
quarter is the second (121 points) while NIU has totaled just 47 points in the opening period.
>> Northern Illinois will be participating in the MAC Championship game for the eighth time in the last 12 years.
>> After going 0-6 a year ago, NIU’s eight-game turnaround has come with a roster that includes 75 players who finished high school in 2020 or 2021 and 11 more who graduated in 2019; of those 86 players, 51 have seen action for NIU in 2021 and 32 are listed on the two-deep this week.
>> NIU had a 21-point run against UB over the late seecond and early fourth quarters. Two of those scores were long-distance run. Trayvon Rudolph ripped off a 75-yard scamper, and Antario Brown reached paydirt from 47 yards out.
>> Jay Ducker has a team-high 788 rushing yards (5.2 ypc) with three scores. Harrison Waylee is next with 101 trips for 574 yards(5.7 ypc). Ratkovich's team-high 12 touchdowns (10 rushing) is tied for third in the conference.
>> Junior Rocky Lombardi ranks fifth among MAC players in total offense (245.8 ypg). He is also fifth in passing yardage (210.4 ypg) and ninth in passing efficiency (134.3).
>> When NIU quarterback Rocky Lombardi looks across the field Tuesday night, he will see a familiar face in Western Michigan
running back La’Darius Jefferson. Lombardi and Jefferson were teammates at Michigan State from 2018-19. Jefferson transferred to Western Michigan following the 2019 season, joining the Broncos last season while Lombardi joined NIU in the spring of 2021 following his 2020 season with the Spartans.
>> Lombardi is quietly putting together one of the top seasons by a passer in NIU history. His 2,314 passing yards are currently ninth on the Huskie single seson charts and are the most by a NIU QB in a single season since 2014 (Drew Hare), his 173 completions are tied for 10th, while his 210.4 yards per game average ranks eighth.
>> The Huskie offensive line is led by super senior Brayden Patton, a 37-game starter, at center. Patton is flanked by a pair of redshirt freshmen guards in Logan Zschernitz and J.J. Lippe, along with second year freshman John Champe. Sophomore tackles Marques Cox and Nolan Potter man the edges. Behind this group, the Huskies rank THIRD nationally in fewest sacks allowed with opponents collecting just seven sacks to date, while clearing the way for nine 100-yard rushing games, 26 rushing TDs and 228 rushing yards per game.
>> Sixteen of NIU’s scoring drives have lasted at least five minutes, including seven drives lasting seven minutes or longer. The Huskies had a season-long seven minute 24 second drive in the fourth quarter at Buffalo.
>> NIU redshirt sophomore kicker John Richardson has made four game-winning field goals in his career with two in his freshman season of 2019 and two this season. Richardson’s kicks this season won the Toledo (10-9) and Ball State (11-10) games by 22-20 and 30-29 scores, respectively.
>> On Tuesday, November 9, NIU announced that Thomas Hammock had received a contract extension to remain as head coach at his alma mater through the 2026-27 academic year. Hammock is in his third year at the helm of the Huskies’ program in 2021.