It is odd to review a game that features such outstanding quarterbacks, in Grayson McCall at Coastal Carolina and Rocky Lombardi of Northern Illinois, yet the run dominates the game plans of both programs. These teams team Friday in the Cure Bowl (6 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
The Chanticleers run it 61% of the time, 14th in the country, while the Huskies are at 64%—only the three service academies, all at 84% or higher, and Minnesota (67.4%) keep the ball on the ground more frequently.
We see the Huskies keeping it close with their multi-pronged rushing attack, that even features Lombardi.
NCAAF · Fri (12/17) @ 6:00pm ET
|Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL|
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (10-2, 6-6 ATS)
Carolina appeared in this bowl, the first in program history, a year ago and lost, 37-34, to Liberty in overtime.
It has covered only five of its past six games,
The Chants have averaged 228 rushing yards over their previous five games, and Northern would enjoy a ground duel since it is so susceptible to McCall—the Sun Belt’s player of the year for a second consecutive season—having a field day through the air.
It appeared that McCall would play in this game, not joining a raft of opt-out players. He might prosper throwing against a Huskies’ pass defense that’s yielding 8.1 yards per pass, 98th among Division-I’s 130 teams.
McCall has completed 73% of his attempts, for 2,558 yards, 23 touchdowns and only three interceptions. His 12.1 yards per toss is the best in the game, and Stetson Bennett of Georgia (10.1) is the only other player with a double-digit rate.
Overall, the Huskies allow 461 yards per game, a bottom-20 figure.
Shermari Jones, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound sophomore from Florida, is the Chanticleers’ main ground force, with 992 yards and 13 TDs, and two other tailbacks have run for more than 500 yards.
Northern Illinois Huskies (9-4, 8-4-1 ATS)
The Huskies last played in a bowl game in 2018, and they have lost six in a row since defeating Arkansas State, 38-20, in the 2011 GoDaddy.com Bowl.
At 0-6 a year ago, third-year coach Thomas Hammock, a former NIU tailback, has fashioned one of the nation’s most impressive turnaround stories.
And with the country’s second-youngest roster, to boot. This is the type of success that grows roots and endures.
The Huskies were boosted by the arrival of quarterback Rocky Lombardi, from Michigan State. He missed a meaningless late-season game but was there to orchestrate a 41-23 victory over Kent State in the MAC title game in Detroit.
Jevyon Ducker, a 5-10, 195-pound redshirt freshman from Bellevue, Nebraska, leads the team with 1,038 yards, but he’s tallied only three touchdowns. His first four games were lackluster, then he barreled Bowling Green for 210 yards and he was off to the races.
He chewed up triple-digit yardage in six of his past seven games.
Four other NIU players have run for at least 400 yards, including Clint Ratkovich, who has scored 12 times. Lombardi has dashed for 407 yards and eight scores.
The Huskies average 263 rushing yards over their past four games. Lombardi likely gets talented receiver Tyrice Richie, who has missed four in a row with a foot injury, back against the Chanticleers.
However, the ground game will be the key to success for Hammock and the Huskies, as Coastal lets opposing quarterbacks complete only 57.9% of their pass attempts, in the top quarter of the country.
The Huskies have covered three of their past four, missing the one time Lombardi didn’t play. As an underdog, they went 6-3-1 against the number.
Coastal Carolina Vs. Northern Illinois Pick
A ground battle will be the perfect script for Northern Illinois, which needs to produce long, sustained drives, moving the chains and taking as much time off the clock as possible.
The Huskies will try to keep the ball out of Grayson McCall’s right paw. And if Coastal Carolina has ground success, too, it could be a see-saw game with the lead changing hands frequently, but slowly, never creeping into double figures.
Our Pick: Huskies +10 (FanDuel)