San Diego State will take on Northern Illinois in their final non-conference game.
The Aztecs will look to continue their undefeated streak against a formidable MAC opponent.
Who are the Northern Illinois Huskies?
The Huskies will be rolling into San Diego this week in high spirits, as they’re coming fresh off a notable 21-17 upset of Nebraska. Can NIU keep up the MACtion against SDSU, or will Rocky Long and Rashaard Penny stay unbeaten and add more momentum leading into conference play?
1. Last week, Northern Illinois pulled off a major upset, beating Nebraska 21-17. What did the Huskies do right in that game that made them able to knock off a formidable Big Ten team?
David Drury: The Huskies did a lot right in the game against Nebraska and most of it came on the defensive side of the ball. The pass rush was able to get pressure with just three and four players. The secondary read the plays well and were constantly on top of the receivers. Everyone wrapped up and tackled well. And NIU didn’t commit a lot of penalties, which had hurt them in their previous games. It was the perfect storm defensively. And the Huskies will need another stellar performance if they want to knock off San Diego State too.
2. San Diego State has one of the best running backs in the country, Rashaad Penny at their disposal. He is second in the nation in rushing yards, with 716, and he is a serious threat out of the backfield. On the other hand, NIU has held opponents to just 293 yards in three games. Do you think this defensive front, led by defensive end/linebacker hybrid Sutton Smith can shut down the Aztecs ground game?
DD: The Huskies rush defense has been stellar all year. But will they shut down Penny? Probably not. He’s a really talented back and will for sure get yards and, sadly, will most likely have a big play or two. That being said, can they slow him down? Yes. Our D-line might be smaller in size, they are fast and sure tacklers who haven’t allowed a lot of big runs this year. Smith and company are capable of limiting the big play potential and keeping the gains moderate but completely stopping a player like Penny is unrealistic.
3. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Daniel Santacaterina will make his third straight start this weekend. Can you tell us a little about what he is capable of doing?
DD: Santa, as NIU fans have taken to calling him, is an accurate passer, even while on the run, and has completed almost 68% of his attempts this year. His deep ball is solid but he more likely to check down and hit a short route than a go for a bomb. And, while he’s not quite the runner Ryan Graham is, his legs can get him out of trouble and keep things alive.
4. Who are some Huskies that are poised to have breakout performances against San Diego State, or at least perform well this weekend?
DD: Once again, I believe that you’ll see a lot of solid play from NIU’s linebackers and the defensive front. And, while Sutton Smith’s name will be called a lot, I think you’ll see linebackers Jawuan Johnson and Kyle Pugh step up and make a lot of plays, both against the run and pass. On offense, running back Jordan Huff is coming off a solid game against Nebraska so look for him to get a lot of touches and for receivers D.J. Brown and Christian Blake to be Santa’s top targets.
5. How do you expect this game will play out?
DD: I think this one will be closer than last years game, where the Aztecs won 42-28. The Huskie defense is much improved and, while the offense still has its struggles they have shown that under Santacaterina they can move the ball a lot better. Can NIU upset the Aztecs? Yeah, absolutely. But as I always do, I approach big games with cautious optimism. It’ll be close but I think the Aztecs will squeak away with a 31-28 win.
My prediction: San Diego State 30, Northern Illinois 24
How to watch: Saturday, September 30th at 7:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network