Preview: Michigan vs. Northern Illinois

Preview: Michigan vs. Northern Illinois

September 17, 2021
Harrison Waylee (image via NIU Athletics)

After last week’s outstanding performance on the ground, Michigan is #4 nationally in rushing with 339 yards per game, as well as #5 in yards per carry (6.85). The Wolverines have a home run hitter in sophomore Blake Corum (35 carries, 282 yards, 4 TD), who has a 67-yard run and a 79-yard kickoff return on his resume so far this year. They also have a steady pounder in Hassan Haskins (40 carries, 225 yards, 2 TD), who breaks tackles with regularity. Michigan’s offensive line is huge and mauled Washington last week. The only real question seems to be whether fifth year senior Chuck Filiaga or sophomore Zak Zinter starts at right guard, since the latter has been dealing with a cast on his hand. Northern Illinois is #121 (232 rushing yards allowed per game) and #101 (4.78 yards allowed per carry) in run defense. They are extremely young on defense, with nine starters in either their first or second year. Unsurprisingly, the leading tackler is fifth year senior middle linebacker Lance Deveaux, Jr. (5’11”, 218), followed by sophomore linebacker Nick Rattin (6’2″, 223) and freshman corner Eric Rogers (6’2″, 180). The Huskies run, in effect, a 4-2-5 defense and their biggest starting defensive lineman is nose tackle James Ester, a redshirt freshman who checks in at 286 lbs., though a couple rotational backups are over 290. After what Michigan did to Washington, it would be crazy to expect this to be anything less than a large mismatch.
Advantage: Michigan

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Michigan is #119 in passing offense (130 yards/game) and #34 in passing efficiency. Quarterback Cade McNamara took a little bit of heat for his play last week, when he looked somewhat skittish despite having good protection the vast majority of the time. The play calling did not set up Michigan to get the ball downfield much against Washington’s solid secondary. The Wolverines are still in search of consistency after two-time leading receiver Ronnie Bell was lost for the season to a torn ACL in the season opener. On the plus side, Michigan has allowed just 1 sack against 32 passing attempts. Defensively for Northern Illinois, the Huskies average 2.5 sacks per game (#43 overall), led by sophomore Devante O’Malley with 1.5 takedowns. Three other players have 1 each. Sophomore cornerback Jordan Gandy (5’10”, 180) looks particularly vulnerable on one side. Northern Illinois is #45 in pass defense (180 yards allowed/game) but #94 in passing efficiency defense. Will NIU choose a relatively slow death by playing deep and letting Michigan run the ball all day? Or will they see that Washington’s tactics didn’t work, choosing to challenge McNamara to beat them down the field? If I were NIU’s defensive coordinator, I would commit to stopping the run, try to take away Cornelius Johnson, and see if Roman Wilson, Mike Sainristil, Daylen Baldwin, or Erick All can beat me.
Advantage: Michigan

Michigan shut down Washington’s run game last week, and the Wolverines are now #31 in the country, allowing 88 yards/game. Teams are rushing for 2.75 yards per carry, good for #33. Middle linebacker Josh Ross leads the team with 17 tackles, followed by jack-of-all-trades defensive back Daxton Hill with 12. Michigan’s defensive line showed up against Washington and may have earned some confidence against a decent Washington line. That would be good for facing NIU’s solid rushing attack, led by running back Harrison Waylee (5’10”, 185), a freshman speedster. Waylee is the #3 rusher in the country with 323 yards in two games. His offensive linemen are all between 306-311 pounds, with one senior, two redshirt sophomores, and two redshirt freshmen. The Huskies will also throw out a couple 260 lb. tight ends and dabble with a Wildcat look that has backup running back/fullback Clint Ratkovich (6’0″, 229) taking snaps to the pace of 13 carries for 76 yards and 3 touchdowns. NIU will commit to the run because that’s their bread and butter, but Michigan should be able to control things up front fairly well for most of the game.
Advantage: Michigan

Michigan is #90 in pass defense, giving up 242 yards per game. Last week they gave up 293 yards to Washington, a team that was playing from behind for most of the game. The Wolverines are #55 in passer rating defense, which is probably a more accurate take. Michigan’s cornerbacks are nothing special, but they have a solid safety crew and an elite pass rusher in Aidan Hutchinson (3.5 sacks). Michigan is #43 overall in sacks as a team. NIU (and Michigan State transfer) quarterback Rocky Lombardi had a field day against Michigan in 2020 by throwing up a bunch of deep balls that somewhat miraculously were caught by Michigan State receivers, but new Michigan defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald isn’t as averse to zone coverage as former defensive coordinator Don Brown was. Lombardi has completed 56.6% of his passes for 7.0 yards per attempt, 3 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. Northern Illinois’ leading receiver is 6’0″, 194 lb. senior Tyrice Richie with 7 catches for 103 yards and 0 touchdowns. I think the best bet for NIU would be to keep in some extra protection and hope to beat Michigan’s linebackers and safeties on in-breaking routes.
Advantage: Michigan


  • Northern Illinois players from the State of Michigan: Safety C.J. Brown (Walled Lake Western), WR Alex Crawford (Macomb Dakota), DE Ivan Davis (Plymouth Canton), DT James Ester (Cass Tech), QB Dustin Fletcher (Flint Carmen-Ainsworth), safety Muhammad Jammeh (Renaissance), TE Blake Kosin (Clarkston), CB Zhamaine March (East English Village), TE Liam Soraghan (Divine Child), DE Jaden Wilson (Renaissance)


  • On September 3, 2005, Michigan won by a score of 33-17 in the schools’ only meeting
  • RB Mike Hart ran 27 times for 117 yards and 1 touchdown; and caught 4 passes for 49 yards and 1 touchdown
  • QB Chad Henne completed 20/31 passes for 227 yards and 2 touchdowns
  • WR Jason Avant caught 9 passes for 127 yards and 1 touchdown
  • CB Leon Hall made career interception #6


  • Roman Wilson catches a touchdown pass
  • Harrison Waylee breaks a 40+ yard run
  • Michigan 38, Northern Illinois 20

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