It’s a non-conference clash on the gridiron when a member of the MAC visits the big, bad SEC down in the Bluegrass State. The Northern Illinois Huskies are on the road as they head east to take on the #8 Kentucky Wildcats Saturday night. Northern Illinois came up on the wrong end of a 38-28 decision at home against Vanderbilt in their previous contest last Saturday. Kentucky cruised to an easy 31-0 win at home over FCS program Youngstown State in their most recent game last Saturday. This marks the first time that the two programs have met on the gridiron as FBS opponents in their respective histories.
Northern Illinois Huskies Seeking to Pull Massive Upset, Even RecordNorthern Illinois hung around against another SEC school in Vanderbilt but was unable to do enough to emerge with a victory. The Huskies dropped to 1-2 on the season and look to find a way to stun a top-10 program, evening their record in the process. Against Vanderbilt, Northern Illinois had their chances as they were up 21-14 at the half and 28-14 less than 90 seconds into the second half before things unraveled. The Huskies gave up the game’s final 24 points to wind up with the loss. Northern Illinois was outgained 428-354 in total offense, gave up 21 first downs while recording 17 and was edged 30:39 to 29:21 in time of possession. Each team turned the ball over once in the contest.
On the season, the Huskies are 95th in passing offense with an average of 218 yards per game while they are tied for 82nd in rushing offense with 154.7 yards per contest. Northern Illinois is 69th in the FBS in scoring offense by averaging 32.2 points per game while they are a brutal 108th in scoring defense by allowing 34.3 points per contest. Rocky Lombardi has completed 39 of 60 passes for 530 yards with five touchdowns and one interception on the season. He adds 14 rushing yards plus a score. Ethan Hampton is 12 of 19 passing for 124 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Antario Brown is the leading ground gainer for the team with 41 carries for 203 yards plus three scores. Harrison Waylee (36 carries, 152 yards, TD) and Mason Blakemore (16 carries, 69 yards, TD) are solid secondary options. In the passing game, Cole Tucker leads the way with 15 grabs for 278 yards and three scores. Shemar Thornton (13 receptions, 149 yards) and Kacper Rutkiewicz (six catches, 62 yards, three TD) are the only other players with more than four catches on the year. John Richardson has hit all 13 extra point attempts but is two of four on field goal tries with a long of 43.
Kentucky Wildcats Looking to Remain UnbeatenKentucky remained unbeaten as they had an easy time taking care of FCS program Youngstown State at home in their previous contest. The Wildcats ran their mark to 3-0 overall and are 1-0 in the SEC as they downed a ranked Florida squad in the swamp a couple of weeks ago. Against Youngstown State, Kentucky’s defense did the job, making life easier for the offense. The Wildcats broke a scoreless game open with a 21-0 edge in the second quarter and coasted from there. Kentucky rolled up a 480-192 edge in total offense, piled up a 26-9 advantage in first downs and dominated time of possession by a 38:10 to 21:50 margin. Those numbers helped offset that the Wildcats lost the turnover battle 3-1.
The Wildcats enter this contest tied for 27th in the FBS in passing offense with an average of 294 yards per game. Kentucky is 122nd in the nation in rushing offense with an average of just 74.3 yards per game on the year. The Wildcats are 75th in scoring offense as they average 31.3 points per contest and stand 13th in scoring defense as they limit the opposition to 9.7 points per game this season. Will Levis is 61 of 91 passing for 882 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions this season though he has been sacked 11 times. With Chris Rodriguez yet to take the field (he’s slated to return on October 1), Kavosiey Smoke leads the team with 39 carries for 178 yards plus a score. La’Vell Wright (19 carries, 58 yards) is the next man up, at least for this week. In the passing game, Dane Key (226 yards, three TD) and Tayvion Robinson (202 yards) share the team lead with 13 receptions. Barion Brown (nine grabs, 99 yards) is the only other player with more than four catches on the season. Matt Ruffolo has booted all 10 extra point attempts and six of seven on field goal attempts with a long of 50 this season.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
While Northern Illinois held their own against Vanderbilt, the final 28 minutes of the game had to be a major letdown. After playing so well in the first 32 minutes, taking a two-touchdown lead, the Huskies were unable to generate any more points, giving up the final 24 points of the contest to wind up losing by double figures. Kentucky has stifled the opposition in their three games this season and having a team that can make life miserable for the opposition only makes the offense that much better. This should be the last week without Rodriguez Jr., which will only make the Wildcats more dangerous as we head into conference play. The Huskies acquitted themselves well against Vanderbilt but it’s safe to say that the Wildcats are light years ahead of the Commodores on both sides of the ball. Kentucky wins this one going away to remain unbeaten.
Full-Game Total Pick
These teams have gone different ways in relation to totals this season. Northern Illinois has gone over the total in each of their three contests as they combined for 61 points in their game with Eastern Illinois, 73 in the game with Tulsa and 66 in the matchup with Vanderbilt. Those games had totals set by the sportsbooks of 55.5 points, 63.5 points and 58.5 points in those games, respectively. Meanwhile, on the flip side, Kentucky has put together totals of 50 points in the game with Miami (OH), 42 in the contest with Florida and 31 in the win over Youngstown State. Those games had numbers set at 54.5, 52.5 and 49.5 points so none were particularly close. With Lombardi questionable and the Kentucky defense stifling, you have to lean toward this game staying under the total.