Michigan has been dominant on the ground in both of its first two games and it should happen again this week against Northern Illinois. The Wolverines are favored by a massive 27.5 points against the Huskies and should roll to 3-0. How they get there isn't even a secret at this point. NIU's rush defense is currently at No. 121 in the country. Cade McNamara literally might not throw the ball once.
James Krause is the sports editor for the NIU Northern Star making him an expert on what the Huskies are all about. He covered NIU's week one win over Georgia Tech along with their loss to Wyoming last week. Now, he's here to breakdown the matchup against Michigan.
Running The Ball
It’s no surprise that the former NIU running back and running backs coach Thomas Hammock wants to establish the run as a coach. Harrison Waylee, who currently sits third in the country in rushing yards, has done just that through two games. Former Michigan State quarterback Rocky Lombardi, who holds a win over Michigan to his credit, gives the offense a solid foundation for passing while also bringing a leadership quality that NIU players said was missing in their winless 2020 campaign. The Huskies have shown to have plenty of toughness so far, upsetting Georgia Tech in Atlanta off a two-point conversion and fighting back from a 26-point deficit to take a lead before losing to Wyoming last week.
After giving up 38 points a game last season, the flaws of the Huskies defense were exposed again last week in a 50-43 loss to Wyoming. Facing two rush heavy teams to start the year, NIU ranks tenth in the nation in most rushing yards allowed per game. This is in large part due to NIU’s front seven having struggled in bringing down runners on first contact, especially in the first half. The secondary that started three true freshmen last year is still showing its youth when tested. Of three passing touchdowns given up so far, two were completed to wide open receivers in the middle of the field.
Three Players To Know
HB Harrison Waylee, No. 30
His quarterback described him as a workhorse earlier this week, and the statlines for Waylee prove it.
Waylee is coming off a career-high 179 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries against Wyoming. The week prior, Waylee rushed 27 times for 144 yards. Dating back to last year as a true freshman, Waylee has four consecutive 100-yard rushing games. Waylee is modest, and most likely correct, when crediting a lot of his success in his offensive line. That being said, Waylee’s breakaway speed and ability to find holes has established him as priority number one for opponents.
WR Tyrice Richie, No. 3
2020 was a breakout year for First-Team All-Conference receiver Tyrice Richie. Leading the team so far with eight catches for 110 yards, getting the ball in Richie’s hands has been a must for Hammock since arriving at NIU. Richie has great speed and ability to track balls, but his biggest strength is in cuts that help him pick up plenty of YAC. Richie is the established receiver for Michigan to focus on Saturday, but they also can’t lose track of Trayvon Rudolph and Cole Tucker.
LB Lance Deveaux Jr., No. 2
The linebacker position has been a blessing and a curse for NIU over the past few seasons. After playing only one game in the last two seasons, Lance Deveaux Jr. has been the anchor of a youthful defense in 2021. He amassed a career-high 13 tackles against Georgia Tech, a performance that earned him MAC West Defensive Player of the Week. Deveaux has also been the catalyst for a more physical and aggressive defense that looks to improve its pass rushing attack from last year.
The Huskies have playmaking ability on offense, but the troubles they’ve had tackling runners in the first two weeks could spell disaster against downhill runners like Blake Corum and Hassan Haskins. The game Saturday will stand as a major test of the Huskies ability to be physical. If they’re getting clobbered like most would expect, will they be able to keep getting off the stool for the next round? They might, but grit and toughness probably won’t be enough to match the talent Michigan has. Wolverines win, the question is by how much.