Each week, York News-Times’ assistant sports editor, Steve Marik, will breakdown Nebraska’s next opponent, detailing who to keep an eye on so when it’s time for the kickoff, you’re all caught up.
After last week’s second-half collapse to the Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder, the sky might be falling for Husker fans. Nebraska is in need of a win, but it isn’t going to come easy against the next opponent on the schedule: the Northern Illinois Huskies.
NIU comes to Lincoln with a 1-1 record under its belt. The Huskies beat Illinois State 24-10 in their season opener on Aug. 31 and lost to No. 13 Utah, 35-17, on the road last week.
Against the Utes, who are a trendy pick to win the Pac-12, NIU trailed just 21-17 at halftime. Expect the Huskies to play Nebraska just as tough.
NIU is led by its senior grad transfer quarterback from Cal, Ross Bowers. Through two games this season, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Bowers is completing 64 percent of his passes (40 of 62) for 528 yards and three touchdowns against two interceptions.
Bowers came to NIU as an experienced signal caller. He started for the Pac-12’s Cal Golden Bears in 2017 and threw for 3,039 yards and 18 touchdowns with 12 picks. Injuries ended his season early last year at Cal, and he decided to transfer out of Berkeley.
The leading rusher for NIU is the 5-11, 215-pound Tre Harbison, who rushed for 1,034 yards last year.
This season Harbison has rushed for 131 yards on 29 carries but hasn’t found the end zone yet in two games. He picked up 99 yards against Illinois State and was held to just 32 yards on six carries last week against Utah.
Three NIU wideouts have over 100 yards receiving to start this season, including Tyrice Richie, tight end Daniel Crawford and Spencer Tears.
Richie, a 6-foot, 190-pound junior, leads the receiving corps with eight catches for 144 yards and a team-high two touchdowns. Crawford, a 6-2, 250-pound senior, has six catches for 124 yards while Tears, a 6-1, 195-pound senior, has hauled in six passes for 109 yards and one score.
NIU’s offense ranks ninth in the 12-team Mid-American Conference in points per game with 20.5. The Huskies are sixth in total yards per game (345.5), third in passing yards per game (267) and tied for ninth in rushing yards per game (78.5).
Look for the Huskers’ defense to shut down the NIU rushing attack. The Huskers’ defense is giving up just 86 yards per game on the ground through two games.
Defensively NIU is holding opponents to 322.5 total yards per game and 22.5 points per game. Utah rushed for 193 yards on NIU’s defense last week, but didn’t have a 100-yard rusher. In pass defense, NIU ranks third in the MAC with 200.5 yards per game through the air.
The top tackler on the NIU defense is 5-11, 220-pound linebacker Antonio Jones-Davis. The redshirt senior from Vero Beach, Florida has 11 stops in two games. Husker fans will see Jones-Davis around the ball a lot on Saturday, as well as 6-foot, 225-pound linebacker Kyle Pugh and 6-1, 180-pound corner Devin Haney, who rank second and third on the team in tackles, respectively.
Pugh has been a playmaker for the Huskies’ defense. He has a team-high three tackles for loss while Quintin Wynne, a 6-1, 240-pound defensive end, has two to go along with one sack.
The NIU defensive backfield has picked off one pass this season, which went to 5-8, 180-pound corner Jalen McKie.
In the special teams department, John Richardson will kick the field goals for the Huskies. He’s 2 for 3 this season. His longest make was from 46 yards away.
Richardson also splits the kickoff duties with punter Matt Ference. Richardson has two touchbacks in four kickoffs while Ference hasn’t had any in five attempts.
Ference has already had 14 punts this season and has pinned the opponent’s offense inside the 20 four times. He’s averaging 43.7 yards per punt.
Kickoff in Lincoln is set for 7 p.m. on FS1.