Northern Illinois (3-0) at Arkansas (2-1) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (72,000) -- Fayetteville, Arkansas. Television: ESPN U. Home Record: Northern Illinois 1-0, Arkansas 1-0. Away Record: Northern Illinois 2-0, Arkansas 1-1. Neutral Record: Northern Illinois 0-0, Arkansas 0-0. Conference Record: Northern Illinois 0-0, Arkansas 0-1. Series Record: Arkansas leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: The Northern Illinois Huskies are off to a start similar to last year's campaign, but will have a tough road test this Saturday to remain unbeaten as they travel to face the Arkansas Razorbacks in non-conference action at Razorback Stadium.
The Huskies are off to a strong start, with routs of opening-week opponent Presbyterian and last week's challenger UNLV. NIU also took down Big Ten foe Northwestern on the road back in Week 2. Now the Mid-American Conference squad must face the SEC Razorbacks who are 1-0 at home.
Arkansas opened its season with a loss to fellow SEC member Auburn, which made an appearance in the national title game last season. The Razorbacks came up short, but easily handled FCS opponent Nicholls (73-7) and Texas Tech (49-28) in successive weeks.
The two teams have only met once on the football field in their program histories, which was back during the 1994 campaign. The Razorbacks took the contest and lead the brief all-time series, 1-0.
Offense wasn't a shortcoming of the Northern Illinois program last season, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Jordan Lynch at quarterback. Even without Lynch this season, the Huskies are doing a fine job of scoring points, having already racked up 126 points in three contests. New quarterback Drew Hare has proven to be a viable replacement for Lynch. Hare has passed for 494 yards and six touchdowns in three games, with no interceptions. Even Matt McIntosh has seen action, and has 122 yards and a passing score to his name.
Going against UNLV presented a challenge for the Huskies, especially after escaping Northwestern the week before. But it didn't matter, as NIU, known for its rushing offense, dominated the Runnin' Rebels on the ground with 331 rushing yards and three scores in the contest. Cameron Stingily carried 17 times for 102 yards and two touchdowns in the win, but is behind statistical leaders Joel Bouagnon (36 carries, 169 yards, 4 TD) and Akeem Daniels (32 carries, 202 yards) in terms of running the ball.
Da'Ron Brown has had three spectacular games this season. The redshirt senior hauled in six passes for 138 yards and a score against UNLV last weekend, and has a team-best 19 receptions for 357 yards and four scores through three games. Juwan Brescacin is the next closest in terms of stats, having caught seven passes for 88 yards and a pair of touchdowns this season. The offense is firing on all cylinders in non-conference play.
Defensively for the Huskies, the 34 points allowed to UNLV was by far the most the team has surrendered in three games played. NIU is holding its opponents to 17.3 ppg this season and an average of 340 ypg. The Huskies have been especially effective against the run, holding opponents to 81 rushing ypg and just two rushing scores, while punching in nine touchdowns on the ground themselves. The defense has also forced five turnovers so far.
Safety Marlon Moore tied for the team lead in tackles against the Rebels with seven, and is in a tie atop the team's tackle standings with linebacker Michael Santacaterina at 18 this season. The safety Moore has intercepted one pass and forced two fumbles, while cornerback Paris Logan adds an interception and a fumble recovery to the defensive effort. The secondary for NIU, even without last year's leader Jimmie Ward, is off to a hot start.
Although Arkansas was buried by Auburn in Week 1, it didn't change the tone for Bret Bielema and the rest of the Razorbacks. The team bounced back to absolutely destroy Nicholls and post 73 points in the process, and then nearly posted 50 points against Texas Tech. Arkansas managed to do it almost solely in the ground game, but posting 438 of the team's 499 total offensive yards via rushing the ball.
Alex Collins took the bulk of the load, carrying 27 times for 212 yards and two touchdowns. He and Jonathan Williams have been monsters in the ground game, combining for 733 yards and 11 touchdowns in three games. They've provided some serious relief for quarterback Brandon Allen, who has passed for 353 yards and six scores in the same timeframe.
Keon Hatcher and Demetrius Wilson led the team in receiving against UNLV, combining for 43 of the team's 61 yards through the air. Hatcher leads the team this season with 89 receiving yards with one touchdown, while Wilson tops the squad with six receptions.
Against a far superior SEC team like Auburn, the Razorbacks were pounded for 595 yards of total offense. Even taking that beating into consideration, Arkansas has allowed just 26.7 ppg through three games, including 396.7 combined ypg. The team has also forced five turnovers, but is allowing a 44-percent third-down conversion rate.
The Razorbacks did a good job in limiting Texas Tech in last weekend's bout. The Red Raiders gained 353 yards of offense, including just 101 yards on the ground on 22 rushing attempts. Linebacker Martrell Spaight led the team in the game with 11 tackles, while fellow linebacker Brooks Ellis chipped in with eight stops. Spaight tops the team with 24 tackles, and has added an interception, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup to his season stat line.
Northern Illinois has played very well against competition from superior conferences this season, but nothing compares to the SEC. Arkansas has held its own in each game played, and will finally play a home game against an opponent from the FBS. The home advantage, coupled with a supreme rushing attack should be enough to get by the Huskies and hand them their first loss of the season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arkansas 39, Northern Illinois 30Game Date and Time
Saturday, September 20, 7 p.m. (ET)