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Preview, Prediction: Northern Illinois Huskies vs. Toledo Rockets

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Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

For the No. 16 ranked Northern Illinois Huskies, the only obstacle standing in the way of a return trip to the MAC Championship game is their West division rival, the Toledo Rockets.

Northern Illinois is sitting at 10-0 and will take their unblemished record on the road to face the 7-3 Rockets. Toledo has reeled off an impressive five-straight victories and has won seven of their last eight games. The Rockets will be poised for the upset and looking to feed off of the home crowd for inspiration on Wednesday night. This game has division title implications for both teams and will most certainly be one of the most entertaining games of the MAC season.

Northern Illinois relies heavily on the running game to wear down their opponents. On the year, the Huskies have averaged 303.8 rushing yards per game and are averaging 44.6 points per game (sixth in the nation). Quarterback Jordan Lynch is the emotional leader of the offense and has rushed for 1,273 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. The running game opens the door for the play-action passing game of the Huskies. Lynch is a dual-threat quarterback and has completed 65.5 percent of his passes with 21 touchdowns and five interceptions. Lynch is lethal when breaking contain outside the pocket and has a solid group of wide receivers that can stretch the field. NIU is ranked 55th in the country in passing offense averaging 244 yards per game.

Toledo must commit to stopping the run on Wednesday night and force Lynch to stay in the pocket and throw downfield. The Rockets are yielding 27.7 points per game and have been solid in stopping the run this year. They are giving up 159.6 rushing yards per game and have a very good defensive line that can plug the rushing lanes against the Huskies. Toledo has been burned in the secondary this season and has allowed 255.5 passing yards per game. The Rockets have done an excellent job this season in rushing the passer. On the year, Toledo has accumulated 32 sacks through 10 games (3.2 per game) ,with senior defensive lineman Jayrone Elliot leading the team with seven.

The Huskies will need to step up defensively against Toledo and shut down a Rocket offense that is averaging 35 points per game this season. The Huskies are giving up 25.7 points per game and have been mediocre in pass defense. Northern Illinois is yielding 276.2 passing yards per game and will be challenged by Rocket wide receivers Bernard Reedy and Alonzo Russell. Both players are able to stretch the field, which allows the Rockets to open up their playbook against opposing defenses. Northern Illinois is allowing 149.2 rushing yards per game and will look to shut down a Rocket rushing attack that is averaging 247.3 rushing yards per game.

Toledo has two solid running backs in David Fluellen (1,067 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Kareem Hunt (6.8 yards per carry and six touchdowns). When healthy, the Rockets like to utilize both in their offensive scheme. Fluellen has been plagued with an ankle injury and might not be available for this game. However, Hunt has shown he can carry the rock and get the job done. In last week’s game against Buffalo, the freshman ripped the Bulls for 186 yards on 31 carries in leading Toledo to the decisive victory.

This game could come down to turnovers and both team have been very opportunistic in creating turnovers this season. Toledo is a +8 in turnover margin and Northern Illinois is a +9 in turnover margin on the year.

Prediction: Toledo has been hitting on all cylinders offensively during their five game winning streak. The Rockets have averaged 45.2 points per game during the stretch and have the better receiving corps in Reedy and Russell. Look for Toledo to come out of the gate smoking and challenge the Huskies secondary. Look for the Rockets to rally behind the home crowd and pull off the Wednesday night upset.

Toledo 48, Northern Illinois 42

Joseph Lisi is a writer for, follow him on Twitter @GoForthe2, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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Northern Illinois Huskies Need Offensive Bounceback in Poinsettia Bowl

The Northern Illinois Huskies were one win away from making their second straight trip the BCS in 2013 before running into a brick wall in the form of the Bowling Green Falcons in the MAC Championship game. Bowling Green’s top-ten defense contained the high-powered offensive attack of NIU and upset the Huskies to keep them from busting the BCS yet again. Northern Illinois will have to find a way to bounce back offensively in a hurry, however, as they face another tough defensive challenge in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl against the Utah State Aggies.

The MAC title game was the first time all season long that NIU failed to score at least 30 points in a game. Combined with a rough day on defense, the Huskies faced a lopsided upset loss at the hands of the Falcons thanks to their physical defense which were able to keep Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch somewhat contained and even forced a pair of interceptions out of the offensive leader of the Huskies’ attack.

They will need to figure out what went wrong in a hurry, though, as Utah State brings a similarly stingy defense to the Poinsettia Bowl. The Aggies rank No. 12 nationally in total defense this season and No. 10 against the run. They have a physical defensive front that helped turn around Utah State’s season after a rough 3-3 start to 2013 that ended up in the Moutain West Conference Championship game in their very first year in the conference.

NIU will be challenged by the Aggies when they square off. If they stumble in the same way they did against Bowling Green, Lynch will leave the Huskies with a disappointing and unsatisfying finale to his collegiate career. Can the Huskies fix what failed them in the MAC title game and come out ahead against Utah State?

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