It’s hard to believe that it was about five years ago when Twitter went all atwitter about #MACtion. That 63-60 shootout between Toledo and Northern Illinois coursed through our veins and left us wanting more. Since that night, MACtion hasn’t really delivered anything like it, but if you take a deep dive into this week’s Toledo vs. Northern Illinois game, there’s a chance that our patience will be handsomely rewarded.
Toledo vs. Northern Illinois College Football Preview
Date/Time: Wednesday November 9, 8:00 p.m. ET
College Football Betting Odds from 5Dimes
College Football Betting Favorite: Toledo -7
Toledo is having a fantastic year. The Rockets are 7-2 straight up and 6-3 against the spread. They slipped up against Ohio, but there’s no shame in losing out on the road in Provo against BYU. With first-year head coach Jason Candle up from offensive coordinator, the Rockets have surprisingly gone just 4-4 to the over, despite scoring an average of 40.3 points per game. Northern Illinois will not be returning to the MAC title game for the fourth straight year, as they are just 3-6 straight up and 4-5 against the spread. They have won back-to-back games SU and ATS, though, so maybe they’re making a late-season push for a bowl. If NIU wins out, they would be under consideration. This is a weird venue at Guaranteed Rate Field, the home of the Chicago White Sox, so we’ll have to see if that wreaks any havoc on the teams either offensively or defensively.
It’s hard to find a team that has been more efficient on both sides of the ball than Toledo. The Rockets offense has been impeccable, averaging 40.3 points and 553 yards per game. Their 7.3 yards per play rank among the top teams nationally and Logan Woodside is a big reason why. Woodside was forced to take a medical redshirt last season, but he’s posted a 71 percent completion percentage with a 34/5 TD/INT ratio this season. Toledo receivers are averaging 14.7 yards per reception this year. The running backs have been doing their thing as well. Kareem Hunt has five yards per carry and the three rushers after him in yardage have all averaged more than that. Toledo has 47 offensive touchdowns on the season.
This isn’t just a one-trick pony, though. This Rockets team can also defend. First-year defensive coordinator Brian George came over with a lot of familiarity in the MAC from his days at Kent State and this defense has held opponents to 22.8 points per game and that includes a 55-point explosion from BYU. The Rockets have allowed just 384 yards per game on the season. However, they have given up 6.1 yards per play. Their clock management skills have allowed them to control games, so they have only faced an average of 63 offensive snaps against per game. That’s why it’s always best to dig deeper instead of just looking at the per game metrics.
Northern Illinois Huskies:
The Huskies went 0-4 in the non-conference portion of the season against Wyoming, South Florida, San Diego State, and Western Illinois. They’ve figured some things out since then, but it was very clear that the defense had fallen off and that the offense missed Drew Hare. Anthony Maddie has taken over and he’s provided a lot of stability. He has completed 60 percent of his throws for 1,213 yards with an 8/5 TD/INT ratio. The bigger story is that he has run for 558 yards on just 82 carries and leads the team with seven rushing touchdowns. He’s a true dual-threat guy and a guy that has spent a lot of time studying this system. It’s worked out well so far. Kenny Golladay is a very versatile wide receiver option with over 1,000 all-purpose yards and 65 of the team’s 184 receptions.
The area in which NIU has fallen off the most is on defense. The Huskies simply cannot defend. They’ve allowed 32 points per game and nearly 460 yards of offense. To be fair, they have played a stronger schedule than Toledo, but they’ve given up yards in bunches. Under Jerry Kill and Dave Doeren, this was a stout defensive team, but Rod Carey and his assistants have not been able to reload that side of the ball. The Huskies are tied for 34th with 10 interceptions, so things could be a lot worse, but that just speaks to how many issues they’ve had in coverage. The Huskies are tied for 106 with 18 pass plays allowed of 30+ yards. Toledo can pick them up in bunches.
College Football Free Pick: Northern Illinois +7
This has all the makings of a back-and-forth type of game. The Huskies have found something in recent weeks with Anthony Maddie and Toledo has played a very weak schedule that has inflated some of their defensive numbers, especially during conference play. The Huskies can still score. Unfortunately, they can’t stop anybody. We probably won’t see 123 points, but something in the high 70s wouldn’t be a surprise and that would likely mean Northern Illinois is holding up its end of the bargain.
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