In the weeks leading up to Marshall's September 29th victory versus division foe Bowling Green, many Herd fans may have looked at the Falcons' unbeaten record in anguish, wondering if the Herd could beat a much improved team who had been playing very well and defeated the likes of Big 12 Missouri.
What Herd fans will see this week is a team with an even winning record, but don't be fooled: the Northern Illinois Huskies are one of the better 2-2 teams in college football.
The Huskies opened the season with a victory over new 1-A member South Florida, who turned around and trounced Big East member Pittsburgh. Northern also gave Illinois of the Big Ten a mighty scare, losing to the Illini by a mere 5 points.
After pounding 1-AA Sam Houston State, the Huskies played nationally-ranked and MAC member Toledo, allowing the unbeaten Rockets their smallest winning margin of the year. So, let's compare these two teams by the numbers...
Record:2-1 (1-0 MAC E)
Points Scored: 100
Points Allowed: 100
Last Week :W vs. B.Green 37-31
Rush Off.: 374
Pass Off.: 932
Rush Def.: 445
Pass Def.: 838
Penalties: 21-200 yds.
Turnover Margin +0
Team Rating 55.85
Key Player(s) QB Byron Leftwich, WR Darius Watts, LB Michael Owens
Record:2-2 (0-1 MAC W)
Points Scored: 93
Points Allowed: 91
Last Week :L @ Toledo, 41-20
Rush Off.: 591
Pass Off.: 792
Rush Def.: 456
Pass Def.: 1036
Penalties: 30-265 yds.
Turnover Margin +4
Team Rating 54.73
Key Player(s) QB Chris Finlen, RB Thomas Hammock, WR Darrell Hill
The Huskies measure up favorably against the Herd behind talented QB Chris Finlen (72-145-4, 780 yds, 6TD) and resemble Bowling Green in many ways. The Huskies like to spread the ball around and have 8 players with receiving statistics, led by Darrell Hill (11-197 2TD).
The Huskies defense is also somewhat reminiscent of Bowling Green, rated 4th in the MAC in scoring defense (22.8 ppg), third in turnover margin (+4 on the season), and third in rushing defense (114 ypg). The one area Marshall may be able to capitalize on is that NIU ranks 12th out of the MAC's 13 teams in pass defense (259 ypg), ahead of only one team: Marshall.
Keys to winning: Northern Illinois
- The Huskies need to take control and set the tone early. Marshall is still in the process of selectively suspending players, which has made the Herd defense succeptible to allow the big play. If the Huskies can get the running game going, they can keep the explosive Herd offense off the field and make for a long day for the Herd.
Keys to winning: Marshall
- Defense. The Herd defense stepped up in the 4h quarter last week and made some big plays. In an away game, Marshall will have to play four good quarters of defense to hold the Huskies and get the ball in the hands of Byron Leftwich. That, however, can be cancelled out if the offensive line cannot protect the QB. Leftwich was sacked several times by Bowling Green, and one of those provided six quick points on a fumble return. Establishing a running game can also be very helpful and don't be suprised to see an occasional carry by Trod Buggs.
As was shown in the Bowling Green game, Buggs' 10.6 yard per carry average caused Bowling Green to step up closer to the line, which allowed Marshall to pass downfield for a 1st down. In a game where both teams have defensive concerns, however, field position - especially from special teams plays - will be most crucial.
- Marshall is likely the most talented team in the MAC, but being the MAC Champions - much less the 4-time champs - puts a bullseye on their chest. The Huskies will be intent on being the first MAC team to knock off Marshall this year. Although not a division game, the game has a lot of importance for Marshall, who will likely be in a tight race for 1st place, and inter-divisional games decide tiebreakers. Marshall has momentum on their side and the defense made big strides as a unit last week. Marshall will have to earn this one, but the Herd has what it takes to pull out the win.
Prediction: Herd 38 - Huskies 24
* Stats and names coutresy of midamconf.com and espn.com