The team Toledo will face on Saturday in DeKalb has several differences from the squad the Rockets put up 800-plus yards of offense on last year in the Glass Bowl.
NIU is 3-3 and 2-1 in MAC play. That's one more win than last year, when NIU had just two. The Huskies have been relying on their defense while dealing with multiple quarterback injuries. NIU has played three quarterbacks and all three have been injured at some point. In Saturday's win over Miami, Chandler Harnish replaced DeMarcus Grady when Grady injured his ankle. Harnish had missed a month with an ankle injury himself and had practiced just twice since removing a boot. Dan Nicholson has also played QB but is out with a shoulder injury.
The sole heralded player for the Huskies entering the season was defensive end Larry English, and he is having another great season. English has 3.5 sacks and six tackles for loss. NIU has 10 sacks as a team.
NIU leads the MAC in scoring defense (14.8 points per game) and rushing defense (113.2 yards per game). The defense has had just nine touchdowns scored on them all year. The last four games NIU opponents have scored 13 points or less. Especially given Toledo's offensive problems, the Huskies will likely come into the game with a lot of confidence it can stop the Rockets' attack.
Freshman running back Me'co Brown is coming off a 123-yard performance against Miami. Brown also returns kicks. Last year's starter, Justin Anderson, is relegated to backup duty but has been taking some direct snaps. The offense has converted 44 percent on third downs.
NIU has had by far the most number of touchbacks in the MAC this year with 11. As a result it is second in the league in kickoff coverage.
Now, all of NIU's wins have come over really bad teams. They lost to what seems to be a pretty bad team in Tennessee, albeit in front of 99,000. But their other two losses were extremely close against good teams in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Both were decided on plays in the last minute.
The NIU players who traveled to Toledo last year and got embarrassed (70-21 final) will want revenge. Toledo has a big challenge ahead of them.