The Northern Illinois Huskies will head south to Bobby Dodd in Atlanta to face the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on September 4th. The game kicks off at 7:30pm eastern on the ACC Network. The Jackets are projected to be the 48th (61st offense, 47th defense) best team in the nation per Bill Connelly’s SP+ analytics, while NIU is 112th.
The Huskies finished the 2020 season with a final record of 0-6. Head coach Thomas Hammond might have a season left to right the ship before NIU is back on the market for a head coach. The Huskies were once a top Group of 5 program. Since 2010, Jerry Kill, Dave Doeren, and Rod Carey all posted double-digit win seasons with the Huskies.
The height of the NIU run came in 2012 where Coach Doeren parlayed the NIU 12-2 season and Orange Bowl appearance into the NC State job, while Rod Carey used it to become the Huskies head coach. Under Hammond, NIU has finished 5-7 and 0-6; both a far cry from 10 bowl game appearances in 11 seasons prior.
The Huskies return 17 of 22 starters on offense and defense from 2020. In ‘20, NIU was one of the youngest teams in the country and will hope the experience pays off in ‘21.
Projected SP+: 112th overall / 119th offense / 99th defense
2020 record: 0-6
2020 Points Per Game: Scored 24.8 / Allowed 38.7
The NIU Offense
Ross Bowers six seasons as a college football quarterback have come to a close. The Huskies will be led by Michigan State transfer Rocky Lombardi instead. Lombardi was a good-but-not-great QB for the Spartans. NIU runs the NCAA 11 personnel offense (one running back, one tight end). The Huskies return two starting receivers, three offensive linemen, and their running back.
Above- I like what NIU does on offense and with the RB Whaley being such a threat with 450+ rushing yards in six games as a freshman, he opens the door for other players to make plays, too.
Above- A 12 personnel picture (one back, two tight ends) Ace formation with a nice zone scheme and a quick back? I love it. I don’t love the QB turning his back and thus eliminating any chance of an RPO or read option, but it seems to work here for NIU.
Above- More wide or outside zone, I’m not sure how much that’s all just semantics or not. People love “tight” vs. “inside” and “wide” vs. “Outside” so they can sound smarter than the room. Or it’s important and I just don’t get it. Either way... NIU is returning most of the O-Line that gashes Eastern Michigan here.
The NIU Defense
Any time a MAC program can return 10 starters on defense, that has to be a good thing. Even with as bad as NIU was on defense in ‘20, the experience should help in ‘21. Competition at NIU will be at an all-time high with how young the squad was last season. NIU runs a base 4-3 defense that bends and molds to their competition.
Above- As you can see, a standard 4-3 defense. The Huskies have walked an outside linebacker over the EMU tight end which bumps their other two linebackers into 20’s (over the guard) or 30’s (over the guard’s outside shoulder).
Above- NIU was able to get to the EMU QB in this December matchup. The Huskies had a good final week against EMU, losing only 33-41 to a good MAC club after grinding through a tough season.
In the rearview
There is no reason Tech should lose to NIU. NIU just doesn’t have the talent, team speed, or resources of the Yellow Jackets. Season openers can be tricky, but Coach Collins has Jeff Sims, Jahmyr Gibbs and a lot of the defense back from 2020. This game could start off 7-7 in the first quarter and wind up a 42-17 type of win before the night is over.
Prediction: Georgia Tech by 28.