N Illinois Utah Football

Northern Illinois quarterback Ross Bowers passes against Utah in the first half Saturday in Salt Lake City.

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Location: DeKalb, Illinois.

Coach: Thomas Hammock (1-1, first season).

Record: 1-1, 0-0 MAC.

Rankings: Not ranked.

OFFENSIVE RATING: 4

Offensive averages / national rank

Points

20.5 / 98

Total yards

345.5 / 95

Rushing yards

78.5 / 121

Passing yards

267.0 / 46

DEFENSIVE RATING: 7

Defensive averages / national rank

Points

22.5 / 58

Total yards

322.5 / 49

Rushing yards

122.0 / 52

Passing yards

200.5 / 60

SPECIALISTS RATING: 5

Special-teams averages / national rank

Kickoff returns

21.0 / 57

Punt returns

6.0 / 73

Net punting

42.79 / 30

Why you may need Rolaids

1. In Ross Bowers, Northern Illinois has an experienced quarterback who's played at a high level. Bowers played in 14 games and started 13 at Cal in 2017 and 2018, throwing for 3,039 yards and 18 touchdowns (with 12 interceptions) in 2017. In his first career start in 2017, all Bowers did was throw for a career-high 363 yards and four touchdowns in a win at North Carolina. Like NIU as a program, Bowers has seen the bright lights and isn't afraid of them. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder has completed nearly 65% of his passes for 528 yards and three TDs in his first two games at NIU.

2. The Huskies are tough against the run. NIU hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 17 consecutive games, and has held eight of its last 16 opponents to less than 100 total rushing yards. No. 13 Utah got 193, but just one of 10 Utes ball carriers had more than 38 yards on the ground. Zack Moss, a rising star in the Utah backfield, ran for 80 yards, but averaged just 4.4 yards per carry. Not great news for a scuffling Nebraska ground game.

3. NIU has no problems playing field position and making opponents drive the field. It's a small sample size, but Northern Illinois has been really good at getting the opposing offense off the field. The Huskies are 13th in the country in third-down percentage defense, allowing first downs on just 24% of their third down tries. Through two games, the longest play against the NIU defense has gone for 42 yards. The longest rush is a 25-yarder.

Why you might chill

1. Adrian Martinez probably won't throw a pair of pick-sixes in the first quarter, for starters. This version of the Huskers seems much better equipped to respond to a rough performance than the 2017 unit that lost to NIU did. The Huskies won't make it easy, but don't expect Nebraska to just fold up the tent if things are a little tough early on. And there's no way this version of NU-NIU can be as weird as the last one … right?

2. Despite last week's fourth-quarter collapse, Nebraska's defense remains excellent against the run, allowing just 2.2 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Northern Illinois is running for just 2.6 yards per carry through two games. That includes 35 carries for 90 yards against FCS Illinois State. Ross Bowers is a good quarterback who can push the ball downfield, but the Huskies might need him to go to another level to move the ball against the Blackshirts.

3. Even with last week's result, Nebraska continued to show progress in many areas. The Huskers are far from a finished product, but there are reasons for optimism. Back home, at night, against a quality opponent, NU shouldn't have any issues getting locked in and taking another step before Big Ten play starts next week.

By the numbers

18

There are 18 players on the Northern Illinois roster who saw action for the Huskies in NIU's 21-17 win over Nebraska in 2017. Eight current NIU players were starters in that game.

17

Northern Illinois has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 17 straight games, dating back to November 2017.

6

Dating to a 28-21 win over Purdue in 2009, Northern Illinois is 6-5 in its last 11 games against Big Ten foes over the past 10 seasons, including wins in four of their last six such games.

Press coverage

Kaleb Carter covers Northern Illinois football for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.

NIU came to Lincoln two years ago and beat Nebraska 21-17. Completely different teams and coaching staffs now, of course, but do you think the Huskies point to that as they get ready for this game?

NIU is a highly confident program and the expectation from experience is that the Huskies go into bigger environments thinking they are winning. Multiple players voiced how excited they were to play in Lincoln a few years ago, and no one seems worried about the atmosphere. I'm sure the upperclassmen are pointing at the 2017 result as an example of going in, expecting to win, and not being overwhelmed by the moment

How much different does this team look under first-year head coach Thomas Hammock? How close is it to looking like what he wants it to look like?

This team is still looking for its identity in some ways. The Huskies seem more personnel-driven in that matchups on both sides of the ball play a larger part in who will see time than was the case under Rod Carey. The passing attack has been a newfound golden nugget that is shaping up how I believe they wanted it to. The running game and overall balance isn't how Hammock wants things to look quite yet.

What kind of dimension does Cal transfer Ross Bowers bring to NIU’s quarterback position?

NIU had just one 300-yard passing game last year and was one of the worst teams statistically in the FBS last year in yards per passing attempt and yards per completion. Bowers brings confidence and poise to a more downfield-oriented passing attack and even showed against Utah he can lead drives on short and intermediate passes through the air.

Were the Huskies encouraged by their first-half performance against Utah, or frustrated they couldn’t make it last four quarters?

They were encouraged by the offensive performance, but certainly weren't happy they were unable to execute some big plays in both moments. The Huskies have yet to be effective with any type of consistency on third downs this season, and it'll be hard for that trend to change with the defensive line Nebraska has.

Nebraska's foes for 2019

Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or cbasnett@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.

This article originally ran on journalstar.com.

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