1. The Lynch Pin. Everything Northern Illinois does on the offensive side revolves around Jordan Lynch, below. The 6-foot, 220-pound junior quarterback is eighth in the nation in rushing at 131 yards per game and has completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,255 yards and nine TDs. He’s elusive, he’s fast and UB’s introduction to him came during his freshman year, when he subbed in for starter Chandler Harnish and went 90 yards for the final score of NIU’s 45-14 victory over the Bulls. Lynch is masterful at the zone option read, and UB will have to contain him as it did Harnish – another standout running QB – last season at UB Stadium. The Bulls will want to force the ball away from Lynch and into the hands of Leighton Settle, who’s rushed for 393 yards and five TDs and is far the lesser of the evils.
2. The Big Stop. To see 38 points against last week at Ohio is to assume the UB defense struggled. That wasn’t the case. Turnovers set the Bobcats up for two TD drives of less than 20 yards and a third score came on a kickoff return. In sum, the defense yielded just two TD drives of length but – here’s the downside – both came after the Bulls had pulled even at 24-24. The success UB had in containing Harnish last year resulted from an attack defense that produced seven tackles for losses, two of them by Khalil Mack. NIU will unload a variety of schemes and personnel groupings with the intent of keeping the defense unsure. UB can’t get sidetracked from its primary mission – force Lynch to give it up. And maybe even put it on the ground. UB and Oklahoma remain the only teams in the country without a recovered fumble. Bulls are first in the MAC and fifth in the nation in sacks (3.6 a game).
3. Variety’s the Spice. UB’s offensive identity is its run game but they can’t live by the rush alone, especially on the road against one of the MAC’s elite teams. Quarterback Alex Zordich has struggled with his accuracy since torching Morgan State, but his legs are too vital to the ground game to bench him for backup Joe Licata. Actually, third-string QB Tony Daniel has talents better-suited than Licata’s to UB’s offensive style. The Bulls have taken some of the burden off Zordich with some offensive wrinkles, such as the pitchout off a wide receiver screen against UConn and the double reverse pass that went for six against Ohio.
4. Who’s at RB? Army ran for 486 yards (and completed one pass for 8 yards) against the Huskies in Week 3 at West Point. NIU hadn’t seen a dedicated running team before that and hasn’t seen one since. In fact, Ball State threw the ball an astounding 71 times last week. The Bulls went to the air 53 times in last year’s meeting after trailing by 21 into fourth quarter. Their chances today will hinge on their ability to run and chew clock and they’ll likely try to do it for the third straight game without the injured starter Branden Oliver. They’ll hope for an encore performance from Devin Campbell, the true freshman who ran for 160 yards and a TD last week. They might mix in Brandon Murie, too.
5. Extra points
NIU has won 18 straight at Huskie Stadium and 14 of its last 15 overall. ... UB never has won on the road against a MAC West team and is 0-3 at Huskie Stadium. ... Mack continues to lead nation in tackles for losses . . . Zoridch has thrown for at least one TD in all five games . .. . Huskies have outscored last four opponents 65-12 in the fourth quarter.
Outlook: Bulls have shown an ability to hang with tough competition but is this where they win first road game in over two years? Northern Illinois, 33-24.