Husker opponent preview: Everything you need to know about the Northern Illinois Huskies

Northern Illinois coach Thomas Hammock inherits a program that has appeared in the MAC title game seven times in the last nine seasons, winning four titles.

Northern Illinois Huskies

Offensive yards per play: 5.57 (72nd nationally)

Defensive yards per play: 5.56 (83rd)

Turnover margin: 0 (T-53rd)

Penalty yards per game: 68 (100th)

COACH

Thomas Hammock (1-1 at NIU, 1-1 career)

Still Northern Illinois’ No. 13 all-time leading rusher, Hammock returned to his alma mater in the offseason for what he considered his “dream job.” And the 38-year-old first-time coach had a good thing going with the Baltimore Ravens, serving as running backs coach the past five years after three as a Wisconsin assistant. Hammock inherits a program that has appeared in the MAC title game seven times in the last nine seasons, winning four titles. 

DEFENSE

Type: 4-3

Coordinator: Derrick Jackson

Jackson spent the past two seasons as cornerbacks coach and defensive recruiting coordinator at Purdue before joining Hammock for his first shot in a 20-year career at leading his own defense. He also has prior stints with schools like Wake Forest, Michigan State and Syracuse. While Jackson doesn’t have much of a track record to scheme against, the NIU personnel lost several key playmakers from last year. Among them is two-time All-American Sutton Smith — who led the NCAA in sacks (15) and TFLs (26.5) — and fellow D-end Josh Corcoran (10 sacks). The Huskies have one sack through two games and have shown a willingness to sell out to stop the run by loading the box.

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OFFENSE

Type: Pro-style spread

Coordinator: Eric Eidsness

Also the quarterbacks coach, Eidsness is making his FBS debut in his 28th year of coaching. His creative passing approach thrived during his time as coordinator at South Dakota State (2012-18), with his final season there including all-time school records of 42.5 points and 480.5 yards per game.

Players to watch

Ross Bowers, quarterback: The graduate transfer from Cal won the starting job in fall camp, ending a streak of 22 straight starts from Marcus Childers. Running isn’t Bowers’ strength, but he’s completed 40 of 62 passes (64.5%) for 528 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. 

Antonio Jones-Davis, safety: The senior has a team-best 11 tackles and was the 16th-leading tackler in the country last year with 130 — the most within the program since 2004. 

THEY SAID IT

“Coaching at your alma mater — as Scott Frost probably knows — nobody wants to win more than you. Nobody has more pride in what you’re doing than you. ... The internal pressure you feel on yourself is way more than what anybody outside of your network could ever put on you.” — NIU coach Thomas Hammock to The World-Herald in April.

“We’ve got Northern Illinois coming in here. Last time they were here, they put our face in the mud, and we weren’t happy. That’s something to be mindful of.” — Nebraska cornerback Dicaprio Bootle.

“Defensively, man they fly around. They’re like a swarm of bees or fire ants or something that you’re trying to block.” — Nebraska coach Scott Frost on NIU.

Notable

112: Difference, in national ranking, of NIU’s third-down offense and third-down defense. The Huskies are converting at just an 18.52% clip (T-125th of 130 FBS teams) while their opponents are doing so just 24% of the time (13th).

0: Fumbles lost by the Huskies. They are one of 21 programs yet to fumble away a possession after two games.

3: Times the teams have met previously. Northern Illinois rode a pair of pick-sixes to a 21-17 upset in 2017. Nebraska won 48-17 and 60-14 in 1989 and 1990, respectively.

SCHEDULE

Aug. 31 Illinois State, W 24-10

Sept. 7 at Utah, L 35-17

Sept. 14 at Nebraska

Sept. 28 at Vanderbilt

Oct. 5 Ball State

Oct. 12 at Ohio

Oct. 19 at Miami (Ohio)

Oct. 26 Akron

Nov. 2 at Central Michigan

Nov. 13 at Toledo

Nov. 19 Eastern Michigan

Nov. 26 Western Michigan

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