Game: Ball State Cardinals at Northern Illinois Huskies
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Odds: Cardinals -2.5, Huskies +2.5
Ball State (5-4) travels to Northern Illinois (6-3) with the MAC West and a spot in the MAC championship game on the table. The Huskies are 4-1 in conference play after five games. The Cardinals are 3-2, playing on the road, and are favored by 2.5.
The Cardinals have won three of their last four games in MAC play including impressive wins over Western Michigan (6-4) and Eastern Michigan (6-4). Ball State also beat a very good Army team 28-16. That’s not an easy thing to do.
The Ball State offense is led by Drew Plitt who has thrown for 1,776 yards and 14 touchdowns. He doesn’t make many mistakes – only four interceptions – and is versatile enough to get out of bad situations. Plitt has only been sacked 16 times all season. The running game is in the capable hands of RB Carson Steele who averages over five yards a carry and has 582 yards and five touchdowns so far in 2021.
The Cardinals’ offense seems to be clicking at the right time. They have won four of their last five games and in their four victories Ball State has scored 28, 45, 38, and 31 points. That could continue tonight as the Northern Illinois defense gives up 33.8 points per game. That ranks 112th in the nation.
The Huskies lost last week in MAC-tion mid-week play to Kent State. NIU gave up 52 points to the fast-paced Golden Flashes offense. Prior to that loss, NIU had won four straight and in three of those games gave up 26 points or less. They beat Central Michigan in a 39-38 shootout.
Northern Illinois’s offense relies heavily on the running game. Their 221.4 yards per game on the ground ranks 14th nationally. The Huskies can turn to multiple athletes to carry the load. Jay Ducker is the team’s leading rusher with 579 yards. Harrison Waylee isn’t far behind with 574 and QB Rocky Lombardi (345 yards) is also a big part of the ground attack. Lombardi, a transfer from Michigan State, also has 1,853 yards passing and 12 touchdowns so far this season.
The Huskies will go up against a Ball State defense that also gives up some points. The Cardinals allow 27.6 points per game (75th), but in their last five games they have allowed more than 25 points just once. Somehow, the Cardinals will need to find a way to slow down the Huskies ground game.
NIU’s ability to run the ball could affect tonight’s total of 61.5. The Huskies have scored 26 points or less in three of their last five games. As a result, the total has gone Under in four of NIU’s last five games. It’s a similar deal for Ball State. The Under has hit in six of the Cardinals’ last nine games.
Northern Illinois has owned this series with Ball State winning eight of the last ten. One of the Cardinals’ wins came just last year. Ball State won 31-25 but failed to cover as a 14.5-point favorite.