It doesn’t appear that Northern Illinois will make it back to the MAC championship game this year. The Huskies are 3-6 overall and 3-2 MAC with three games to play Of course, sweeping all three would make NIU bowl eligible, so there remains a carrot beyond program and personal pride.
Next up is for NIU is Toledo, a team that . . .
Technically – and maybe otherwise – Wednesday’s game is a Northern Illinois home game. The contest will be played at Guaranteed Rate Field (home of the Chicago White Sox) and the school claims 120,000 alumni in the Chicago area.
Especially by Northern Illinois standards, this year’s record is no doubt disappointing for the Huskie faithful, but UT has plenty of reason to believe the record deceptive.
Indeed, since starting MAC play, Northern Illinois is 3-2. One of those losses was in three overtimes to Central Michigan. the other was a 45-30 loss to Western Michigan – a game in which NIU trailed by eight more than midway through the final quarter.
Beyond the score, Northern Illinois is starting to do those things it likes to do – those things it does very well. In particular, the running game is clicking. Joel Bouagnon, a 6-2, 228-pound senior, ran for 134 yards with five TDs last week against Bowling Green. He had one TD over the first eight games.
Like others before him, senior quarterback Anthony Maddie, has also been a big contributor to the run game. He had 14 rushes for 93 yards and a TD against Bowling Green and picked up 125 yards with four TDs on 15 carries in a 44-7 pounding of Buffalo in his previous outing.
NIU can also put the ball up. It ranks seventh among MAC teams in passing offense and dynamic receiver Kenny Golladay leads the conference in receptions per game (7.2)
Overall, Northern is third in both scoring offense (31.1 ppg) and total offense (462.9 ypg).
It’s not quite as rosy on the other side of the ball. Defensively, the Huskies are tied for ninth in scoring defense (32.0 ppg) and are 10th in total defense (459.1 ypg).
The Rockets have a tough and talented runner in Kareem Hunt (102.9 ypg/3rd MAC), as well as one of the national leaders among quarterbacks. Logan Woodside the the FBS co-leader (with Washington’s Jake Browning) in touchdown passes (34) and tops the MAC in passing yardage 338.0 ypg. He is also first in pass efficiency.
NIU is ninth against the run (199.7 ypg) and seventh among MAC teams in pass defense (259.4 ypg). The Huskies also rank seventh in pass defense efficiency.
Toledo is second (behind Western Michigan in scoring offense (40.3 ppg) and one spot ahead of NIU. However, the Rockets are also second in scoring defense (22.8 ppg), while NIU is tied for ninth (32.0 ppg).
The Rockets passing game is cranking out 345.4 ypg and provided 35 TDs. The 70.4 percent completion rate trails only Western Michigan.
Among Woodside’s targes is Michael Roberts, who recorded his 10th touchdown reception of the season against Akron. That set the UT single-season school record for tight ends.
Cody Thompson is second among MAC receivers with an average of 109.7 ypg. Corey Jones is third in receptions (6.8 per game). Thompason is averaging 21.0 yards per catch, while Jon’Vea Johnson is another deep threat, averaging 20.2 yards per grab.
The run-pass balance has helped Toledo be effective in moving the chains, and UT is third in the nation in successful third down attempts (72 of 133 for 54.1%). Rocket opponents, on the other hand, have made just 27 of 116 third down conversions (23.3%). That is second best nationally, trailing only Michigan (19.0%).
Finally, an area of note for almost any contest is turnovers. If this is any indication, Wednesday’s game could be a close call. NIU and Toledo are tied in turnover margin (-1)