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Poke Preview Week 2: Northern Illinois Huskies

Cowboys visit upset-happy Huskies in first road matchup of 2021

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 21 Poinsettia Bowl - BYU v Wyoming Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

What: Wyoming Cowboys vs. Northern Illinois Huskies

Where: Brigham Field @ Huskie Stadium, DeKalb, Illinois

When: 11:30 a.m. MT

Network: ESPN+

Head-to-Head: The Cowboys and the Huskies have only met head-to-head once before back in 2016, when Josh Allen and the Pokes avoided an upset in a contest that went all the way to triple overtime, eventually besting the Huskies 40-36.

What we know:

Not unlike the Cowboys in week one, the Huskies of Northern Illinois came from behind in a back and forth battle to win their opening weekend contest in the final seconds of their week one matchup. However, the glaring difference between the two is the quality of the opponent in which they were able to escape defeat. The Pokes are coming off a game in which they were nearly upset at the hands of Montana State, an FCS school they should have had a much easier time beating. As for the Huskies, they are coming off one of the biggest upset victories of the first week of college football, sneaking by Georgia Tech, an ACC school, in a dramatic late 4th quarter comeback victory.

Three things to look for:

  1. Can the Huskies keep their momentum? Or will Craig Bohl and his staff be able to fix last week’s offensive struggles?

There’s no question that the Pokes had their share of offensive struggles last Saturday afternoon in Laramie. QB Sean Chambers had a difficult time getting in a groove and the offense in general was unable to generate any type of an offensive flow until it was almost too late. With the exception of the defense, the Pokes seemed to be a rusty and uninspired group in their home debut. Hopefully they can shake that rust off and play up to their potential, given how much experience they have on both sides of the ball.

2. Will the Cowboy Defense be able to limit the offensive efficiency of the Huskie attack?

Not only did Northern Illinois come out on top in their win over Georgia Tech, but they didn’t make a whole lot of mistakes either. Huskie RB Harrison Waylee finished with 27 attempts for 144 yards and 1 touchdown for a more than efficient showing. Former Michigan State and current NIU QB Rocky Lombardi might not only hold one of the flashiest names in all of college football, but he was also very efficient in his outing. He finished 11/17 for 136 yards and 2 touchdowns, and was also instrumental down the stretch in capping off the win for his team. Those two separate performances mean that the Pokes will have their work cut out for them in limiting both a high volume run game, as well as a proven effective air attack. Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week, Cowboy LB Chad Muma, may have to replicate a lot of what he did last week against Montana State in order to help his team to victory this Saturday. The catch is however, that this time he’d be doing so against a much tougher Huskie Offense in order to get the job done and will his team to a win.

3. Will the Cowboys be able to limit turnovers and capitalize on their Red Zone opportunities?

Last week, the Cowboys were not only unable to find a groove on the offensive side of the ball until the latter portion of the game, but they were also unable to put points on the board in opposing team territory. They’re going to have to be much better in that area to have a chance at victory against an offense that didn’t make a whole lot of mistakes in their first showing. Northern Illinois also scored 14 points off of Georgia Tech’s missed opportunities last week as well, and the Pokes had plenty of those in their contest. The Huskies pose a much cleaner and well-rounded scheme on both sides of the ball, so limiting mistakes is going to be a key talking point for Craig Bohl and the Cowboys this week. Expect them to make the necessary adjustments.

Prediction:

Normally I would be a lot more confident in the Pokes ability to beat a MAC opponent, but this NIU team has a lot of experience, has shown the grit necessary to beat worthy opponents, and has a QB with Power 5 experience and leadership qualities. However, I also feel that if Wyoming avoids making too many mistakes on offense and their defense plays up to their potential again this week, that the results may show and they may be able to avoid catastrophe. This matchup will be close and may come down to which running back has the bigger game. I’ll have Wyoming squeaking by.

Wyoming 27

Northern Illinois 23