Northern Illinois (7-1) @ Western Michigan (3-5)
Saturday, October 27
Since losing their season opener to Iowa, Northern Illinois has rattled off seven straight wins, including four straight covers against the spread. They have won their last two games (vs Buffalo and @Akron) by a combined score of 82-10. The Huskies should be able to have another productive outing at Western Michigan on Saturday. Here is how they will be able to keep their undefeated MAC record intact:
Northern Illinois Offense vs Western Michigan Defense
Northern Illinois loves to run the football down their opponent's throat. The Huskies rank 7th in the nation in rushing yards per game, and their Junior QB, Jordan Lynch, is second in the nation in rushing yards at 131 per game. Northern Illinois runs a hurry-up, no-huddle offense that has proven to wear out defenses, especially defensive linemen. In their four MAC conference games this season, the Huskies have outscored their opponents by a total of 45-0 in the 4th quarter, which is a huge testament to their ability to run their opponents to the point of fatigue. As I mentioned before, QB Jordan Lynch gets most of the carries. His playing style is very similar to Heisman trophy contender Collin Klein of Kansas State. Much like the K-State offense, Northern Illinois loves to put Lynch in the power pistol formation and run straight quarterback-keeper plays, prompting Lynch to read defenses and set up blocks. They also like to run a shotgun-spread, setting up the zone-read option or quick pass to the outside. All of that running potential poses a huge threat to Western Michigan's defense, as they run a 3-3-5 base set that is built to defend the pass-happy teams of the Mid-American Conference. Western Michigan has been awful against teams that had any sort of running threat this year. They gave up 5.8 yards per carry (ypc) to Kent State and 7.5ypc to Toledo, who runs a shotgun spread zone-read similar to what Northern Illinois will try to establish on Saturday.
Western Michigan Offense vs Northern Illinois Defense
Western Michigan lost their star QB, Alex Carder, early in the season. It doesn't appear that he will be back for this game. That means the Broncos will go with Tyler Van Tubbergen, who has started the last four games. Van Tubbergen has struggled so far this season, as he only has 3 TD's and 8 INT's against three MAC opponents this season. That is not a very promising sign for a Western Michigan offense that relies heavily on their passing game. In fact, the Broncos throw the ball 56% of the time, ranking #20 in the nation in that category. They like to run 4 or 5 WR spread sets, looking for short passes and yards after catch. However, Western Michigan has struggled finding room for its wide receivers all season, as they only average 6.1 yards per pass (#103 nationally). Their leading wide receiver, Jaime Wilson, is questionable to play after sustaining a groin injury last week. He may not be 100%, even if he does play. The Broncos have been pretty turnover prone as well, as they rank #116 for interceptions thrown as a percentage of passing attempts. It may be hard for Western Michigan to improve on those numbers this week. Northern Illinois held Akron's potent passing attack to 157 yards last weekend, and Akron ranked #24 in passing going into that game. Look for them to do the same against a banged up Western Michigan offense that is having trouble executing their gameplan.
The recipe for having success against this Northern Illinois defense is to run the ball effectively. In the two games the Huskies failed to cover (against Kansas and Army), both teams ran the ball for more than 150 yards in each game. Western Michigan does not pose any real threat in the rushing game. In fact, they are amongst the bottom 20 teams in terms of how often they run the ball. Look for Northern Illinois to sit back and disrupt the routes of Western Michigan's wide receivers.
Western Michigan is 0-4 against the spread as an underdog this year, including a 37-17 home loss to Toledo earlier this season. Meanwhile, Northern Illinois is 5-2 against the spread this year, covering in four straight contests. The Huskies have a huge edge in talent and this matchup greatly favors their overall strategy. I would look for Northern Illinois to maintain their unblemished MAC record and cover the seven point spread on the road. TAKE NORTHERN ILLINOIS -7.
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