The Northern Illinois Huskies will host the Akron Zips in the penultimate MAC opener of the 2022 season this Saturday afternoon.
It hasn’t been a great year for either team as they are both bottom of the MAC rankings but will look to end the season on a good note.
Akron has lost nine straight games after winning his season opener against FCS opponents St. Francis. The 1-9 (0-6 MAC) Zips have another chance to win against an FBS team this year as they look to shock the Huskies at home. Northern Illinois, one of the preseason favorites to win the MAC, has picked up injury after injury. The Huskies have lost five games by one goal this season, falling to 3-8 (2-5 MAC)…their worst full season since 2007.
When: Saturday, November 26 at 1:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m. CST)
Where: Huskie Stadium – DeKalb, IL
Weather: Upper 40’s and sunny at game time
Opportunities: NIU is favored by 10 points and has a 79.7% chance of winning according to ESPN’s FPI. The over/under is 53.
Despite Akron being in the MAC for 30 years and NIU turning 25 this season, those two teams have only met TEN times in conference games and 16 times overall.
The series was pretty even for the first 50 years or so. NIU claimed the inaugural game back in 1966, but the schools did not meet again until 1987 when Akron ended the streak. The Huskies would win the next two games in 1988 and 1990 before the Zips countered with wins in 1991 and 1996.
In 1997, the teams became conference rivals when NIU rejoined the MAC, but did not play each other until 2000, when NIU won the first conference game. In 2004, the Huskies would win their second straight win against the Zips.
However, in 2005, Akron would even up the ante…beating NIU twice. First in September when they clinched a 48-42 win over the Huskies in overtime. Nine weeks later, the teams met in the MAC Championship game, where Akron won 31-30 with a late Hail Mary.
Since that MAC Championship game, however, the Huskies have notched up six straight wins and won by averaging 24.8 points…or more than three touchdowns.
At Huskie Stadium, NIU is 6-2, with the average score at DeKalb being NIU 28.5 to Akron’s 16.8. They have won their last four home games against the Zips, with their only home losses in 1987 and 1996.
Allowed points: 36.7
Allowed yards: 432.2
Akron’s passing attack is very dangerous, with three talented receivers and a pretty solid quarterback. Her 283 passing yards per game is the second most in the MAC and 21st best in any FBS.
The Zips offensive runs through quarterback DJ Irons. Irons hits 66.8% of his throws and has 2,605 yards and 10 touchdowns. He is also the team’s second-best rusher, having rushed for 314 yards and four more touchdowns on the floor. However, he has thrown seven interceptions and been dismissed a whopping 41 times — the second most in the NCAA.
The trio of Shocky Jacques-Louis, Alex Adams and Daniel George have combined for more than 165 receptions and over 2000 yards. Jacques-Louis has been great this season, leading the team in receptions (65) and mileage, ranking fourth in the MAC with his 800 yards (and he’s played two games fewer than the top three). He also has a pair of touchdowns. Adams leads the Zips with six TD grabs and has 687 total yards and 49 receptions. George added 597 yards to his 53 catches.
On the floor, when the irons aren’t crawling, Cam Wiley and Clyde Price III share carries. Wiley leads the team with 358 yards on his 82 carries, while Price III has 185 yards on 74 tries. Both have five rushing touchdowns.
In defense, Bubba Arslanian leads the team with a total of 109 tackles. That massive number is the third most in the conference and almost FIFTY more than the next closest zip, defenseman Nate Thompson, who has just 60 tackles. Arslanian also has 8.5 tackles for loss, two pass breakups, a sack, a quarterback rush and an interception.
Victor Jones and Zach Morton lead the Zips. Jones, a senior defenseman, has brought down the ball carrier 43 times with 7.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, three QBH and two PBU. Morton, another senior DL, has a team with many sacks (3.5) and forced fumbles (2) and also has 21 tackles, six TFL, two PBU, two QBH and one interception.
Allowed points: 31.7
Allowed yards: 385.1
The Huskies have respectfully used their fourth-string quarterback and fourth-string running back in recent games with Nevan Cremascoli and Jaiden Credle.
Cremascoli – who replaced Justin Lynch, who replaced Ethan Hampton, who replaced Rocky Lombardi – is a true freshman who has shown he has the potential to lead the team going forward. He made a few mistakes, threw five picks and completed just 48.6% of his throws, but he also threw for 456 yards and five touchdowns in his three games.
Justin Lynch will most likely see some time as well, but mainly as a runner. Lynch has 55 rushing attempts and only 20 passing attempts, which has earned him 260 yards and three TDs on the ground and just 118 yards through the air.
Wide receiver Cole Tucker didn’t play last week, so Huskie believers are hoping to see him in uniform one last time. The senior has four touchdowns and leads the team with 41 receptions and 599 yards. When he’s out, look for Shemar Thornton and Kacper Rutkiewicz and the tight ends to make an impact. Rutkiewicz leads the team with six TD catches and has 405 yards on his 24 grabs. Thornton has 280 in his 26 receptions.
On the ground, the huskies have recently started using Credle. In his last two games, he has rushed the ball for 233 yards and hit once 51 times. We could also see Harrison Waylee and Antario Brown again as they made sporadic substitutions in the last game. Waylee leads the team with 157 carries and 872 rushing yards (five TDs), while Brown has a team-high seven touchdowns and 689 yards under the net with 110 carries.
CJ Brown has replaced Daveren Rayner as the Huskies’ lead tackle. Brown now has 73 tackles, an interception and a forced and recovered fumble.
But the biggest difference for the Huskies was up front, where Raishein Thomas, Devonte O’Malley and Michael Kennedy stepped up and started making games. The trio of defenders have 12.5 sacks — with Kennedy and O’Malley sharing the team lead with 5.5 each — and 22 TFLs, with Thomas leading the team with nine.
NIU is also one of the best in the MAC at forcing the QB out of the pocket and then bringing down the quarterback. NIU has 32 quarterback hurries this season — only Ohio has more (47) — and their 29 sacks rank third and MAC and 30th in the NCAA.
Irons tackles a very holey pass defense in the Huskies, who hit almost 250 yards per game in the air. So he should be able to move the ball a bit.
However, since Irons has been sacked so many times and NIU has a very solid front four, look for the Huskies to put a lot of pressure on him and probably sack him a few times as well.
The Huskies should also be able to move the ball on one of the MAC’s worst defenses against the run.
NIU has the talent and depth to keep Akron winless against the FBS and earn their seventh straight win of the series.
I would expect the Huskies to run the ball early and often and keep the Irons off the field for as long as possible. NIU rushes for 230 yards and ends the season with a win.
NIU Huskies – 35
Akron zippers – 24