Northern Illinois (1-0) at Northwestern (0-1)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 6, 3:30 p.m. (ET).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Ryan Field (47,330) -- Evanston, Illinois. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: NIU 1-0, NU 0-1. Away Record: NIU 0-0, NU 0-0. Neutral Record: NIU 0-0, NU 0-0. Conference Record: NIU 0-0, NU 0-0. Series Record: Northern Illinois leads, 6-0-1.
GAME NOTES: The Northwestern Wildcats will try to rebound from a season- opening loss when they welcome the Huskies of Northern Illinois to Ryan Field for a non-league clash on Saturday afternoon.
Northern Illinois began the 2014 campaign last Thursday with a 55-3 rout of Presbyterian. The perennial Mid-American Conference power has posted four straight seasons with at least 11 wins, including last year's 12-2 finish (and No. 24 ranking) under first-year coach Rod Carey.
While NIU was victorious in its opener, Northwestern suffered a 31-24 loss to California that ended the team's 16-game non-conference home winning streak dating back to 2007, and marked its first season-opening loss since '04. Although there is plenty of football to be played in the season ahead, that outcome is no doubt a troubling sign for a program that last year finished 5-7 and missed out on a bowl game for the first time in six seasons under head coach Pat Fitzgerald.
Northwestern is unbeaten (including one tie) in seven all-time meetings against the Huskies. Despite approximately 70 miles separating the two campuses, this marks the first time these teams will square off since 2005, a game that NU won in a 38-37 final.
Much of Northern Illinois' recent success was due to the play of former star quarterback Jordan Lynch, who accounted for nearly 50 touchdowns (24 passing, 23 rushing) and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting last year, his final season in DeKalb. Matt McIntosh (10-of-14, 87 yards, TD), Drew Hare (8- of-13, 100 yds, TD) and Anthony Maddie (1-of-4, 24 yds) all shared reps in the opener. McIntosh played the entire first quarter, Hare took over in the second and then Maddie entered after the first drive of the third quarter.
Although the QB situation remains unsettled, the running game appeared to be in top form against Presbyterian as NIU racked up 424 yards (5.5 ypc) and five TDs on the ground. Akeem Daniels led the way with 118 yards on 15 carries, while Joel Bouagnon rushed for four scores and finished with 97 yards on 16 totes.
The Huskies defense forced three turnovers last week, and all three led to touchdowns for the offense. Freshman cornerback Albert Smalls accounted for one of those takeaways with an interception at the PC 12-yard line. It was an encouraging sign for NIU's defense, considering the unit is no longer able to lean on standout defensive back Jimmy Ward, a first-round draft choice of the San Francisco 49ers this past May.
All told, the Huskies held the Blue Hose to just six first downs and 127 yards of total offense. However, they can expect to face a much stiffer test this week against a hungry Big Ten squad looking to atone for a season-opening loss.
Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian was given the job all to himself this year after previously ceding snaps to dual-threat Kain Colter. However, Siemian looked anything but a seasoned veteran last week as the offense managed only seven points before rallying for three late scores to close the gap. Siemian finished with 229 yards and a touchdown on 23-of-44 passing to go along with two interceptions and a pair of sacks. His second pick came in the final minutes at the Cal 15 with NU looking to tie the score.
In the backfield, the true freshman tandem of Justin Jackson and Solomon Vault combined for 65 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries in the collegiate debut for both newcomers. However, returning starter Treyvon Green struggled with only 37 yards on 13 carries (2.8 ypc).
After watching Cal race out to a 31-7 third-quarter lead, NU's defense held the Golden Bears without a point over their final five possessions while the Wildcats offense clawed back into it. Unfortunately, those 31 points proved too many to overcome.
Looking ahead to this week's contest, the Wildcats defense will try to settle in much earlier. Three players finished with double-digit tackles in the loss, led by Collin Ellis with 12 stops (nine solo) and an interception. Ibraheim Campbell also registered a pick to go along with 11 solo stops, while Chi Chi Ariguzo had 10 tackles and a sack.
Northwestern carries a 10-game win streak against MAC foes into this matchup, but the team is trending in the wrong direction since the end of 2012 when it won a bowl game for the first time in 64 years. Still, the Wildcats can ease some of those concerns by coming out on their home turf and making a statement in this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Northwestern 38, Northern Illinois 10
09/03 11:55:13 ET