Since losing in week zero, the Ohio Bobcats have rattled off five straight wins, including two consecutive conference wins heading into this weekend. Ohio beat up on arguably the worst team in the MAC, Kent State, last weekend at home, but they’ll be back on the road Saturday to play the Northern Illinois Huskies. We’ll preview the game before breaking down why I think the Bobcats keep their winning and covering streak alive.
The season started on a high note for Northern Illinois with an upset win over Boston College, but up until this past weekend, NIU was going through a rough stretch of football. Prior to a much-needed 55-14 win over Akron on Saturday, the Huskies had lost four straight games, including their first conference game. With their record now sitting at 2-4, the Huskies enter this weekend’s matchup ranked 57th in points per game but still ranked 80th in offensive success rate.
Northern Illinois’s offense is focused entirely on their run game, as their rush play percentage is up to 54.43%. Behind running back Antario Brown and his 614 yards, the Huskies are averaging 185 rush yards per game and 5.2 yards per rush, ranking them in the top 30 for both categories.
When they drop back to pass, NIU is led by experienced quarterback Rocky Lombardi, who has a 5:4 touchdown to interception ratio. His offense will have a difficult task this weekend against an Ohio defense that is 15th in EPA. The Bobcat’s defense has been impressive this season, holding opponents to an average of 12.2 points and 239.4 yards per game, which both rank within the top five.
No team has scored more than 20 points on the Bobcats, and a big reason for this is that they can stop teams both on the ground and through the air. Opponents are averaging just 79.8 rushing yards per game and 3.1 yards per carry up to this point.
What’s scary about this Ohio team is aside from their defense, they also have one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Kurtis Rourke. After getting off to a slow start due to injury, Rourke has found his stride over the past two weeks, throwing six touchdowns and zero interceptions.
With their winning streak on the line, Ohio comes into this matchup as (-6.5) point road favorites, and I’ll be backing them for my play. The Bobcats offer a real challenge to a Northern Illinois offense that, until conference play, was struggling to find the endzone even once in a game. After playing two straight lackluster run defenses, the Huskies' run game will be met with a challenge I don’t think they can overcome.
Northern Illinois is 34th in EPA per rush play on offense, but the Bobcats are 6th in EPA per rush plays on defense. Ohio is also 20th in defensive success rate for run plays and 8th in success rate for pass plays, which makes a turnover-prone Rocky Lombardi’s job even more difficult.
Offensively, Ohio seems to be heating up at the right time, with Kurtis Rourke looking far more comfortable under center. The Canadian gunslinger put up 200 yards and two touchdowns against the NIU defense last season and has the Bobcats ranked 27th in offensive success rate on pass plays, which should be enough to outlast a Huskies defense that is 44th in defensive EPA on pass plays. In what might be more of a defensive battle like it was last year, I trust Rourke to still get the job done on the road.
Ohio Bobcats (-6.5)