Run-heavy Northern Illinois ‘a huge challenge’ for Miami defense

RedHawks need to win final two games to be bowl eligible

If you thought Miami’s football team was having injury problems, consider the plight of the Northern Illinois Huskies.

Eleven different players have carried the ball at least one time while five different players have thrown at least one pass in 2022 for Northern Illinois. That may at least partially explain why the defending Mid-American Conference champions are 3-7 overall and 2-4 in the Mid-American Conference going into their game at home on Wednesday against Miami.

The injury problems have led to the Huskies having to deploy quarterbacks with different skill sets. Some pass better than they run. Some run better than they pass.

“They’re coming off a great year,” ninth-year Miami coach Chuck Martin said. “They’ve had some quarterbacks hurt. They’re a run-heavy offense. Their head coach was an NFL running back. They know a little bit about running the ball.”

Northern Illinois, which plays in the MAC West Division, went into the week ranked second in the conference with an average of 199.6 rushing yards per game. The Huskies’ rushing attack is led by 5-foot-10, 192-pound sophomore running back Harrison Waylee, who was third in the MAC with an average of 95.9 yards per game.

“They’re a huge challenge for a defense,” said 6-2, 290-pound junior defensive tackle Austin Ertl, a Wisconsin native who was recruited by Northern Illinois. “They take pride in being physical with the run. It’s going to be cold. Their quarterback situation is similar to what we’ve had.

“They like to double-team you, but I enjoy double teams.”

The Huskies are coming off an encouraging 24-21 MAC win at Western Michigan  over a Broncos team that squeezed past Miami, 16-10, in Oxford on Oct. 22. The Huskies came up with six sacks along the way and got a late touchdown drive led by sophomore quarterback Justin Lynch after starting two true freshmen, quarterback Nevan Cremascoli and running back Jaiden Creadle.

“Our defense was aggressive,” fourth-year Northern Illinois coach Thomas Hammock said. “They made plays. That’s the way we have to play. We played smart. We played field position, and we gave ourselves a chance in the fourth quarter. We talked about having the ability to get off the field on third downs and the guys executed at a high level.

“Offensively, we did what we needed to do. We were down to our fourth-string running back. I thought he would play well and he did. Justin was ready to go. When he comes in, the defense has to defend the whole field. What a great weapon, and he was ready when his number was called. I couldn’t be more proud of him and how he handled the environment and the situation.”

The Huskies go into Wednesday’s game with the MAC’s second-ranked rushing defense, allowing an average of 134.3 yards per game. That’s right behind top-ranked Miami at 116.4 rushing yards per game. Miami ranks last in the MAC in total offense with a average of 300.8 yards of total offense per game and second last with an average of 19.6 points allowed per game.

The status of RedHawks’ 6-foot, 205-pound fourth-year junior quarterback Brett Gabbert remained unknown after he suffered an injured ankle on the last play of Miami’s 37-21 “Battle of the Bricks” home loss to Ohio on Nov. 8.

“Defensively, they have athletic, twitchy guys,” Martin said. “They’re good on defense.

“If you defend the run and run the ball, you have a great chance to win. We talk about that every week.”

The RedHawks need wins in their final two games to reach 6-6 overall, the minimum needed to qualify for one of the 43 bowl games scheduled for the 2022-2023.

WEDNESDAY’S GAME

Miami at Northern Illinois, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network, 980, 1450

About the Author