Northern Illinois Huskies Preview 2022: Season Prediction, Breakdown, Key Games, Players

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Northern Illinois Huskies Preview 2022: Previewing, predicting, and looking ahead to the Northern Illinois season with what you need to know and keys to the season.

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Northern Illinois Huskies Preview
Thomas Hammock 4th year at Northern Illinois, 14-18
2021 Preview: Overall: 9-5, Conference: 6-2
Keys To The Season
Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Northern Illinois Top 10 Players | NIU Schedule

Northern Illinois Huskies Preview 2022

Never underestimate the MAC going MAC.

No other conference has a history of going from zero to hero on a regular basis more. It was Northern Illinois’ turn.

The 2018 MAC champion program had two straight dud seasons, bottoming out with an 0-6 run in 2020 with nothing happening on defense.

Head coach Thomas Hammock used that as a true rebuild season.

The 2022 version shocked Georgia Tech to start the season, pushed through a slew of tight battles to get to the MAC Championship, won it, and lost a thriller of a Cure Bowl to Coastal Carolina.

Now it’s up to the Huskies to start making things easier on themselves.

It takes a great team to win the tight ones, but seven of the nine wins were by a touchdown or less. Give NIU credit for closing, but  there’s a fine line between all the big things last year’s team did, and being an also-ran in the MAC.

With nine starters expected back on offense, seven likely back on defense, and a decent kicking game all in place, Northern Illinois isn’t likely to go back.

Northern Illinois Huskies Preview 2022: Offense

Running game, running game, running game. Of course the team with Thomas Hammock as the head coach would be able to run, and Northern Illinois did just that finished fourth in the nation averaging 241 yards per game behind a great line that was great for the ground game and dominant in pass protection. But …

Leading rusher Jay Ducker is off to Memphis. He accounted for close to 1,200 yards and three scores, and also got is FB Clint Ratkovich pounded for 13 scores.

Harrison Waylee was second on the team with 574 yards and four scores, and Antario Brown hammered away for close to seven yards per carry and five scores on his 538 yards.

They’ll all work behind a loaded offensive line led by all-star guard Logan Zschernitz and tackle Nolan Potter on the right side. The ground game will also get help from …

Rocky Lombardi is back at quarterback. The former Michigan State Spartan is okay throwing it, but he’s a tough baller who ran for over five yards per carry with 472 yards and nine scores. On the way to help is Temple transfer Justin Lynch in a backup role.

The receiving corps is strong with three of the top four targets back. Second Team All-MAC deep threat Trayvon Rudolph is the biggest playmaker, Cole Tucker is a great veteran who grew into the job last year, and coming in is Shemar Thornton from FIU. TE Miles Joiner is a proven midrange target.

Northern Illinois Huskies Preview 2022: Defense

The defense was awful in the winless 2020, and it wasn’t any better last year. The Huskies finished 115th in the nation in total defense. was miserable against the run, couldn’t come up with takeaways, and allowed 34 points per game.

In a the-food-was-bad-but-the-portions-were-huge sort of way, but to be fair, this was a YOUNG group. 15 of the top 20 tacklers were freshmen and two others were sophomores.

The pass rush was lacking, but there are options. It’s a big front four with 273-pound Devonte O’Malley – he plays inside or out – leading the way with four sacks and sophomore James Ester a second-team All-MAC performer at one tackle.

The linebacking corps gets back All-MAC-caliber Kyle Pugh – for his eighth year with the program after missing all of last year hurt. He’ll work on the outside with third-leading tackler Nick Rattin settling into the middle spot. Also coming in is Izayah Green-May from Wisconsin for the rotation.

The secondary went WAY young, and now it has some potential ballers. Safety CJ Brown led the team with 108 stops, Jordan Hansen came up with 58, and corner Jordan Gandy is a hitter on the outside. Coming up with more than three picks as a group would be nice.

Keys To The Season
Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Northern Illinois Top 10 Players | NIU Schedule

Northern Illinois Huskies: Keys To The Season, Top Game, Top Transfer, Fun Stats NEXT

Northern Illinois Huskies: Keys To The Season, Top Game, Top Transfer, Fun Stats

Northern Illinois Huskies: Key To The 2022 Offense

Just be a weeeeeee bit more accurate and consistent with the passing game.

The ground attack will be among the best in the country – it should average well over 200 yards per game again. Now Rocky Lombardi and the passing game have to make defenses pay.

Lombardi hit just 58% of his throws. He might not be Aaron Rodgers, but as long as he’s able to get to around 65% or so, the offensive could become lethal.

There’s no excuse for a team with this running game to convert just 38% of its third down chances. That comes with hitting a few more throws.

Northern Illinois Huskies: Key To The 2022 Defense

Seriously, start taking the ball away.

The run defense has 100 miles to go to be merely mediocre if there aren’t major changes after last year, and the pass rush that was among the worst in the nation has to be steadier.

Just take the ball away.

Northern Illinois was able to win the MAC Championship and have a way-fun season even though the defense couldn’t do much of anything right at times. Life would be easier with takeaways.

Last year’s defense spread out nine fumble recoveries over the 14 games, and it generated a mere three interceptions. One came against Eastern Michigan, two in the MAC Championship win over Kent State.

There need to be more.

That’s why …

Northern Illinois Huskies: Key Player To The 2022 Season

DE Devonte O’Malley, Soph.
He’s big enough be a tackle but will work on the end. Either way, he’s been the team’s top pass rusher over the last two seasons with a whopping two in 2020 and four last season.

The linebackers provide most of the tackles for loss. The line has to get to the quarterback more.

Northern Illinois Huskies: Key Transfer

WR Shermar Thornton, Sr.
He didn’t do much over the last two seasons at FIU with just five catches for 27 yards, but he’s going into his sixth season with the speed and deep threat ability to give the Huskies a dangerous home run hitter. He averaged 13.6 yards per catch with 73 grabs and nine touchdowns with the Panthers.

Northern Illinois Key Game To The 2022 Season

Toledo, Oct. 8
The Huskies get a dangerous Toledo team in DeKalb.

It’s the oasis in the middle of a road game sandwich with two road games before and two right after. However, outside of the date with Kentucky, those away games are more than gettable.

Beat Toledo, and it sets the tone to take another West title. Lose, and the dates with Central Michigan and at Western Michigan are even more important.

Northern Illinois Huskies: 2021 Fun Stats

– Rushing Yards Per Game: NIU 241.4 – Opponents 214.4
– 4th Down Conversions: 26-of-31 (84%) – Opponents 12-of-29 (41%)
– Total Points: Opponents 472 – NIU 451

Offense, Defense Breakdown
Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Northern Illinois Top 10 Players | NIU Schedule

Northern Illinois Huskies Season Prediction, What Will Happen NEXT

Northern Illinois Huskies Season Prediction, What Will Happen

Yeah, Northern Illinois couldn’t seem to play an uninteresting game last year, but give it credit for having the mindset and ability to find a a way to win the close games. Every team – (cough) Nebraska (wheeeez) – would love that.

Again, this was a very young team that spent the last few years building everything back up. The lines are better, the running game should once again be a killer, and QB Rocky Lombardi has been around for 14 years and should be a wee bit more consistent.

But the schedule is interesting.

Set The Northern Illinois Huskies Regular Season Win Total At … 7.5

At Kentucky is the only likely sure-thing loss, but even that might be right-day-right-time possible to get. There are a whole lot of sneaky-tough games to deal with.

At Tulsa – that’s a problem.

Vanderbilt – it’s at home, but it’s still against an SEC team.

At Ball State, at Eastern Michigan, at Western Michigan – all of those will be fights.

Northern Illinois probably won’t have quite as many close, tight games – it should be more dominant at times.

It might be a fight to get back to eight regular season wins with this schedule, but the team should be better and it might get close.

Beat Toledo, beat Western Michigan on the road, and NIU should get back to Detroit in early December.

Offense, Defense Breakdown | Keys To The Season
Northern Illinois Top 10 Players | NIU Schedule

2022 College Football Schedules: All 131 Teams

Story originally appeared on College Football News