Don’t be fooled by Northern Illinois’ 63-10 loss to No. 8 Michigan. The Huskies are riding high on a three-game winning streak and are 4-2 overall and 2-0 in the Mid-American Conference.
Bowling Green State University, 2-4 and 0-2, travels to Huskie Stadium on Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff in a game televised by ESPN Plus.
BGSU owns a 12-10 edge in the all-time series, but the Huskies have defeated Maine 41-14, Eastern Michigan 27-20, and spoiled Toledo’s Homecoming party at the Glass Bowl last week by winning on a last-minute field goal, 22-20.
They are led by 6-foot-3, 227-pound junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi, who ranks fifth in the MAC in total offense, averaging 209 yards of total offense and fourth in points responsible for with 56.
Lombardi led NIU to victory at Toledo, rushing for 90 yards on 12 carries and throwing for 154 yards on 14-of-24 passing with an interception.
“He’s a good runner and a good athlete, which is something you would not expect from him because he’s a taller and bigger guy,” said BGSU sophomore middle linebacker Brock Horne.
“But he can run the ball very well and has a great arm, too, so he’s a big threat in that way and we’re going to have to be ready. If he gets to scrambling, we are going to have stay on our man and not beat ourselves like we did the last game. He is definitely a challenge.”
Northern Illinois 5-10, 214-pound freshman tailback Antario Brown was pressed into action in the second half of NIU’s victory over Eastern Michigan following an injury to freshman running back Harrison Waylee, who was averaging over 100 yards in his first five games. Brown rushed for a career-high 101 yards on 16 carries against the Eagles.
Brown made his first career collegiate start at Toledo, establishing a career high in carries with 24 against the Rockets for 93 yards. He scored his first career touchdown on a 37-yard run in the second quarter and ranks third on the team in rushing with 194 yards on 40 rushes.
“They are similar to Minnesota in the aspect that they are a heavy-run team, but they do propose a challenge in that way that they are so big and physical that we’re going to have to be ready to match their physicality,” Horne said.
Northern Illinois opened the season with a 22-21 win over Georgia Tech and then lost a shootout to Wyoming, 50-43 before being routed by the Wolverines.
“They’re a good football team. They’re athletic. They can score points on offense. Defensively, I think they’re super athletic upfront,” BGSU coach Scot Loeffler said.
“I like the back end. They are not afraid to play man coverage. Playing over there is a challenge, having to go six-and-a-half hours out there is not an easy place to play,” Loeffler continued.
“We have to have our complete A-game. The goal is, if this team is going to beat us, they’re going to beat us. We’re trying to eliminate the self-implosion and inflicting the wounds we’ve been having.”
The Falcons are coming off two straight MAC losses to Kent State, 27-20, and Akron, 35-20. In the loss to the Zips, the Falcons had five turnovers, including two fumbles and three interceptions.
In the loss to Akron, BGSU freshman tailback Jaison Patterson ran for 79 yards on 15 carries and the Falcons’ 107 yards rushing was only the second time this season they went over 100. However, a fumble by Patterson late in the game proved to be costly, which Loeffler says demonstrates how key ball security is.
“I mean all week long that’s all we talked about was the ball, the ball, the ball. It wasn’t just J.P. (Patterson), it was numerous guys that were carrying the ball poorly,” Loeffler said.
“And it wasn’t just one time that it was addressed. It was several times. Unfortunately, it took a bad mistake to get it corrected. Kind of like when your parent tells you something and you kind of listen. But that’s what happened.
“The cool thing today (practice), this is a small thing but it’s growth, there wasn’t one person on our football team that was carrying the ball poorly today. But it took a bad example to get it corrected. I made that example to our team today. That’s where we’re at.”
BGSU has 71 players on its roster that graduated high school in 2020 or 2021, which is the third-most in the nation.
Loeffler says because of the youth, the Falcons are still a work in progress, but he promises that progress is underway.
“This ideology and this thought that practice is exactly like the game is foreign to a lot of them. We made strides to get better with it, but those elite teams that win day in and day out, they’re unbelievable all the time. They have consistent habits all the time,” Loeffler said.
“That football field out there, on game day or the practice field should look the same and ours doesn’t yet. It’s getting closer, but it’s still not that the whole world’s going to end on a Tuesday practice when the ball is on the three and they’re going through their mind.
“They don’t have that intensity yet and they don’t understand that practicing that moment right there is going to make a difference between, at times, winning and losing.”