Know Your Opponent: Week 3 (Northern Illinois)

BY CAMERON SURDYK | Ball State Sports Link

There is a big week ahead in the MAC West as we approach the halfway point of this six-game season.

Ball State (1-1) is looking to go into the home stretch above .500 with its final three games likely being the toughest tests of the 2020 season. 

To do this, they will have to get past Northern Illinois, a program that has dominated the Cardinals over the last decade, and until last year, winning 10 straight games against BSU starting in 2009.

Last season was different as the Cardinals won, 27-21, in DeKalb.

Caleb Huntley ran 35 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns, while Ryan Rimmler made connected on a career-high four field goal attempts in the Bronze Stalk trophy victory.

The two teams have played for the Bronze Stalk trophy since 2008. Designed by nationally recognized sculptor and DeKalb artist Renee Bemis, the trophy depicts several cornstalks in tribute to the prevalence of maize around the respective home states of the rivals.

This year, NIU is coming off two drubbings at home to Buffalo (49-30) and Central Michigan (40-10) in which they were seemingly out of the game by the second half. The Huskies will be looking to pick up their first win of the season in Muncie.

“There’s no way to overlook Northern Illinois,” Ball State head coach Mike Neu said . “I don’t care what’s happened the past two games. That was our first win last year in 10 tries. There’s nothing really that needs to be said to our football team other than that.”

Northern’s main problem offensively so far this season has been holding onto the football. The Huskies have fumbled nine times in two games, one of which was a special teams error that led to the ball eventually being knocked out of bounds for a safety.

If NIU wants to be efficient in its run game Wednesday, head coach Thomas Hammock and offensive coordinator Eric Eidsness will likely have done a plethora of ball handling drills with running backs Erin Collins and Harrison Waylee. 

Even then, NIU’s offense may still find itself in trouble as the stats do not look promising after its first two games. Out of all 28 NIU offensive drives this season, nine have ended in 3-and-outs, while eight have ended in turnovers.

Another problem that plagues the Huskies coaching staff is the lack of experience. 2019 saw the end for several key players on NIU’s roster including running back Tre Harbison, who traded DeKalb for UNC Charlotte for his 2020 senior year.

Harbison was a dynamo in NIU’s attack with eight rushing touchdowns as well as over 1,000 yards from scrimmage in his 2019 season for the Huskies.

Ross Bowers

This means Ball State’s strong defensive front should have no trouble covering NIU’s ground game.

Which also means Hammock’s Huskies will be tossing most of their hopes for a win on the arm of senior quarterback Ross Bowers.

Bowers transferred to NIU after three seasons in the Pac-12 at California, in which he most notably played all 12 games his sophomore season for the Golden Bears. 

Since his cross country move, Bowers has found relative success in DeKalb, throwing for 2,130 yards last season as well as seven touchdowns. His downside is interceptions. Bowers threw eight picks last season and has already thrown one in 2020.

All in all, Ball State is in a similar situation it faced last week going into the Eastern Michigan game. The Cardinals are facing an opponent which it has struggled against in recent history, but are now superior offensively and have the tools on defense to keep the opposition out of the end zone.       

But then again, it is #MACtion.

Sports Link GameDay LIVE starts at 6p, followed the by the game on ESPNews and SL Digital at 7p.