Preview and predictions: Michigan football vs. Northern Illinois Huskies

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Preview

For the second week in a row, the Wolverines will square off against the Huskies, but this time, it’s a MAC team rather than the one they just beat 31-10 from the Pac-12.

Northern Illinois already has one big win under its belt, having upset Georgia Tech on the road in Week 1. But it stumbled this past week when it lost something of a shootout against Wyoming, 50-43. The NIU offense can move the ball, but it’s in the middle of the pack nationally at the moment, ranking 70th overall. The Huskies have Rocky Lombardi, the transfer from Michigan State who upset the maize and blue a year ago, under center, and he’s been up and down, having thrown for 136 yards in the season opener before getting 233 yards the following week. He has a 56.6% completion percentage through two games and has thrown three touchdowns and three interceptions. His favorite targets thus far include senior Tyrice Richie (7 catches, 104 yards) and junior Cole Tucker (7 catches, 83 yards). Neither have scored a touchdown this year. The tight ends have not been heavily involved in the passing game as of yet, as they have two receptions total on the season.

The Huskies are getting a lot of production, however from its ground game, which is ranked No. 37 in the country. Freshman Harrison Waylee is the primary ball-carrier and he has 53 carries for 323 yards and 3 TD with an average of 6.09 yards per carry. Behind him, senior Clint Ratkovich has just 13 carries for 76 yards, but also has 3 TD, averaging 5.85 yards per carry. What will be interesting is seeing how much head coach Thomas Hammock understands the nature of the defense he’s facing, given that he and Mike Macdonald were on the staff with the Baltimore Ravens at the same time.

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Defensively, NIU plays right into Michigan’s biggest strength in terms of having a porous rushing defense. The Huskies gave up 273 yards rushing to Georgia Tech in Week 1 and followed that up by allowing Wyoming to rush for 191 yards. Considering Georgia Tech is no longer a triple-option team and had some struggles running a year ago, there’s a good chance that the Northern Illinois rush defense is just bad. They have been the recipients of two fumble recoveries, however.

It’s a bit better in pass defense, ranking No. 45 in the country and having surrendered just 180 yards per game. Like Michigan, the secondary has yet to come away with an interception this season. They are 43rd in the country in sacks with five, so they have been able to get pressure, at least against the likes of the Yellowjackets and Cowboys.

As far as players to watch, senior linebacker Lance Deveaux Jr. has 3 tackles for loss while freshman defensive tackle Devonte O’Malley has 1.5 sacks. Sophomore cornerback Jordan Gandy leads the team with 3 passes broken up.

List

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Predictions

Will Rocky Lombardi be able to come into The Big House and have similar success to what he did when he tossed up 50-50 balls to Jayden Reed a year ago? Will Michigan’s defensive front stymie the Huskies rushing attack the way it did the Washington Huskies? How much will the Wolverines offense insist on running the ball again this week? Will there be a bigger premium on passing?

Here is how WolverinesWire’s Isaiah Hole and Trent Knoop expect the game to go.

Trent Knoop

This should be the easiest game on the schedule for Michigan. NIU really doesn’t appear to have any real strengths and the defense is ranked poorly in almost every category imaginable. I think that Michigan will continue running wild against an undersized Husky line, and we will see more throwing from McNamara before Big Ten play begins.

There is a reason that games are played, but I don’t think this one will be very close at all.

Predictions

  • Michigan gets two interceptions off of Rocky Lombardi

  • One Michigan receiver will go for 100-plus yards receiving

  • Michigan 49, Northern Illinois 10

Isaiah Hole

While MSU was a bad team last year and still beat Michigan at home, Lombardi doesn’t have the same caliber of weapons he had in East Lansing. So far, we haven’t seen a carbon copy of the Baltimore defense in Ann Arbor, so Hammock’s familiarity with Macdonald shouldn’t yield much results. Expect Michigan’s defense to look as good, if not better, than it has in the first two weeks, but it will be the pass defense that will be the star of the show instead of the rushing defense. Still, NIU’s offensive line has one upperclassman among them, so it could/should be a big day for the Michigan front seven to rain havoc upon the Huskies backfield — whether it be terrorizing Lombardi or bottling up the run here and there. It’ll be incumbent upon the defense not to get overzealous — Lombardi did get rid of the ball quickly in 2020, which I expect him to do again this year.

On the other side of the ball, while I expect Michigan to pass more than it did last week, it will probably look a lot more like Week 1. I don’t anticipate the Wolverines airing it out, especially if the ground game continues to be the team’s strength. Yes, they’ll need to figure out what it can do through the air before Wisconsin and this is also the best chance. But I don’t think they’ll open up the playbook just because it’s looking to add live reps. I think you’ll see a bit more of a taste of what Cade McNamara can do before they shut him down completely while relying on Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum.

Predictions

  • Michigan rushes for more than 300 yards for the third-straight week

  • The defense gets its first interception courtesy of an errant and rattled Rocky Lombardi

  • Michigan 52, Northern Illinois 12

List

3 keys for Michigan football vs. the NIU Huskies