DeKALB – NIU and Miami will meet for the first time since 2019 when the Redhawks come to DeKalb for the third Mallory Cup.
The Huskies (3-7, 2-4) are coming off of a road win at Western Michigan (24-21) on a last-minute touchdown drive led by quarterback Justin Lynch. Miami (4-6, 2-4) was 37-21 loser at home to Ohio.
Kickoff is 6 p.m. Wednesday on CBS Sports Network.
About the Redhawks
Miami comes in with the stingiest scoring defense in the MAC, allowing only 23 points per game. They are fourth allowing just less than 370 yards per game. Linebacker Ryan McWood has 99 tackles on the season, third best in the MAC. They also have the best rush defense in the league with 116.4 yards allowed per game, about 20 yards ahead of the Huskies, who are second.
The offense has struggled, scoring less than 20 points per game, second-lowest in the league. They are last in total offensive yards at 300.8 yards per game and last with 159 passing yards per game.
The Redhawks have won the past two games in the series in 2018 and 2019, claiming the first two Mallory Cup titles. The traveling trophy is named for former NIU and Miami coach Bill Mallory. NIU had won seven of eight in the series dating back to 2002.
Three storylines to watch
1. How much momentum do the Huskies have coming off a 2021-style win?
The Huskies run to the 2021 MAC title was filled with close victories and late comebacks. This season that has not been the case, which makes last Wednesday’s win a throwback to a more successful period for the Huskies.
NIU coach Thomas Hammock said his confidence never wavered in the team having seen the way they practice.
“If you watch us practice you can’t tell what our record is, and I think that’s a testament to the men in the locker room,” Hammock said. “It was good for them to have the payoff. You put in all the work, then to have the payoff it was good for them to see. And it was good for the coaches. We’re all in this together, grinding together. For everybody to have that payoff, it was good to see.”
2. How will the quarterback situation play out between Nevan Cremascoli and Justin Lynch?
True freshman Nevan Cremascoli made his first start last week and played most of the game. He was 8 for 17 for 133 yards, but he also threw three interceptions. That led to Lynch taking over on the final drive. He had a key 52-yard run that set the Huskies up for the winning score in the final minute.
“Nevan had his ups and down, but he’s already guaranteed a redshirt this season,” Hammock said. “We need to figure out the progresses. Then Justin came in at the end of the game and helped win the game. That was big for us. Both of those quarterbacks, we’ve got to continue to develop where they can have success.”
And while he didn’t indicate what the playing time split would look like against Miami, Hammock said that turnovers can’t continue to happen. The NIU defense forced two fumbles, but the Huskies lost the turnover battle in the win.
“The bottom line is we can’t turn the football over, and Nevan turned it over,” Hammock said. “The second interception was exceptionally bad. The other two were learning and growing at the position. But we can’t be careless and put our defense in a bad spot. At that position you have to take care of the ball first and foremost before you do anything else.”
Hammock said that he expects Rocky Lombardi will return to the team next year as he’s expected to get a medical redshirt and continue his career for one more season with the Huskies.
3. Will Jaiden Credle be the main cog in the backfield again?
Hammock against stressed he’s “not an injury guy” when asked about the status of Antario Brown and Harrison Waylee, both of whom missed last week’s game. That made Cedle the workhorse for the team, carrying the ball 36 times for 136 yards and a touchdown, although he didn’t have a run over 11 yards.
He did say he expects some players back against Miami, and he liked what he saw out of Credle.
“He was able to keep us in normal down and distances so we could be able to be not one dimensional,” Hammock said. “Western blitzed us at a high rate in the game, and for a young guy like that to go out and keep us at a normal down and distance gave us a chance.”
Pulse of the fans
The NIU defense has seen a marked turnaround over the past few weeks – in fact Hammock said he noticed a change starting about six weeks ago. The hot streak continued Wednesday against Western Michigan, with the Huskies allowing 316 yards of total offense. While still ninth in scoring defense in the MAC and 113th nationally (32 points per game), in terms of total yardage, the Huskies are sixth in the MAC and 78th nationally at 388 total yards per game. Heading into the Eastern Michigan game with a 1-5 record Oct. 15, the Huskies were eighth in the league and 105th nationally allowing 422 yards per game, and they were ninth and 125th in scoring defense at 38.3 yards per game. The defense has shaved its average yards by about 40 per game and almost a touchdown per game. They’re only 2-2 during this stretch, but obviously injuries on the offensive side have a ton to do with that. If the defense had been producing at this rate at the start of the season it’s pretty safe to say the Huskies would have a bowl berth already locked up.