Northern Illinois hosts Western Michigan on Tuesday night to conclude midweek MACtion in November. The midweek portion of the MAC slate has been good to the Huskies. Coach Thomas Hammock’s team beat Buffalo last week to clinch the MAC West title. While there’s nothing to play for in terms of conference positioning for NIU Tuesday night’s game is a chance for the Huskies (8-3 6-1) to send a small class of key seniors out on a high note. The stakes are also high for Western Michigan. At 6-5 (3-4 in conference), the Broncos are probably safe for a bowl trip, but a win over Northern Illinois would add more security for a team on the bubble.
Western Michigan at Northern Illinois
Kickoff: Tuesday, Nov. 23 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Western Michigan -4
When Western Michigan Has the Ball
Scoring points hasn’t been a problem for Western Michigan this season.Balance has been a strength for Lester’s group, averaging 193.9 rushing yards a game to 254.4 through the air. However, a couple of areas of concern have prevented this unit from taking its play to the next level. The offense could also use a few more big plays (just eight of 40-plus yards).
The Huskies struggle to get pressure (12 sacks), which should help the Broncos protect Eleby for downfield opportunities.
Although Eleby and WMU’s receivers have a favorable matchup, Lester’s offense might lean on the run to win this game. The Huskies are surrendering 5.7 yards per carry, and the last three opponents have recorded at least 222 yards. Sean Tyler paces the offense with 889 yards, but La’Darius Jefferson (766 yards) and Jaxson Kincaide (332) will be involved.
The stat sheet is not kind to Northern Illinois’ defense. This group enters Tuesday night’s game giving up 32.7 points a game and 6.5 per snap, while also surrendering too many big plays. However, the Huskies have found a way to get timely stops, ranking second in the MAC (conference-only games) in third-down defense and fifth in red-zone stops. Considering what’s transpired this year for NIU’s defense, along with the firepower on the other sideline, bend-but-don’t-break seems likely to continue for this unit on Tuesday night.
When Northern Illinois Has the Ball
Despite injuries taking a toll on a couple of NIU’s top playmakers, this group has been prolific in 2021. The Huskies average 31.6 points a contest and just over six yards a snap (6.01). Both of those totals are a significant increase from ’20 when the program averaged just 24.8 points a game and 4.99 a play. The arrival of quarterback Rocky Lombardi from Michigan State is a big reason for the jump in production, but the Huskies have also shown progress along the offensive line to help lift the entire offense.
Although Lombardi’s arrival has been crucial for the Northern Illinois offense the ground game is where the success of this unit starts Five players have at least 50 rushing attempts for the Huskies this year with Jay Ducker (788 yards) and Clint Ratkovich (327) expected to see the bulk of the workload on Tuesday night. Harrison Waylee (574 yards) was the team’s No. 1 back at the start of the year but has been out since October due to injury. Western Michigan has been one of the MAC’s toughest teams against the run, but Eastern Michigan posted 255 on the ground in last week’s victory. Will the Huskies find room on the ground or will Ducker, Ratkovich, and Antario Brown struggle to get on track?
Western Michigan’s defense has its strengths, but this unit has been vulnerable in MAC contests (33.0 ppg allowed). However, will the Huskies choose to rest any players considering there’s nothing on the line on Tuesday night? If so, that makes this battle a little easier for the Broncos’ defense.
The motivation for both programs is clear going into Tuesday night’s matchup. Barring several upsets from other teams in Week 13, the Broncos should be safe for a bowl.
Northern Illinois 31, Western Michigan 30
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