Western Michigan @ Northern Illinois 11/15/15
Western Michigan @ Northern Illinois
For me the most intriguing unit match up for this game is WMU's pass offense versus NIU's pass defense. WMU with QB Zach Terrell have a passing game that is just one spot shy of cracking my top 25 passing teams. Their passing game, and their team, got off to a slow start this season with a tough schedule playing Michigan State at home and then Georgia Southern and Ohio State on the road. Since then their passing game has thrown for a higher ypp average than their opponent usually allows in all of their games. They didn't do better much better than Bowling Green usually allows last week, but the weather conditions were tough and rather wet. It's supposed to be dry today, but the current wind forecast is for 18 mph. That's getting awful close to a strong enough wind to negatively affect the passing game. The WMU passing game is trending up.
The NIU pass defense has been a bit psychotic this year. Overall they're a pretty good unit, but they have the odd distinction of having their best games of pass defense against the best passing teams they've faced, and some of their worst games against some of the worst pass offenses they've faced. To wit -- they surrendered 329 passing yards to UNLV in the opener, followed by allowing just 136 to Ohio State in their next game. Now, UNLV has been a surprise on offense this year, and Ohio State was just getting into a big offensive lull, primarily in the passing game, when they played, but those are still some fairly extreme numbers. A couple weeks after that they gave up only 182 passing yards to a pretty good Central Michigan passing unit...but then 393 to a mostly bad Ball State passing unit the week after that. They'd settled into a pretty solid groove of good pass defense after that, including the game against Toledo -- Toledo's only bad game on pass offense in quite a while. And then, once again after a good performance, they followed it up with a poor one against Buffalo last week. Who knows what to expect from this NIU pass defense tonight? Looking at the home and away splits is of no help as they've been much better on the road than at home, lol.
Against the run, NIU has faced a pretty easy schedule outside of games against Ohio State, Toledo...and Eastern Michigan, lol. EMU had actually been pretty damn good at running the ball until their last two games. NIU did a good job against OSU and EMU, and just a little below average of a job against Toledo. It almost fits into their pass defense pattern of playing better against the better units, and then just "meh" against the average to poor ones.
WMU's run offense has really been gaining steam in this second half of the season. The only game in which they haven't rushed for 200+ yards and a good ypc average was versus Miami of Ohio a month ago. M-OH actually has a fair run defense.
Putting the pieces together, we've got a WMU offense that is balanced and executing very well versus an NIU defense capable of big games or below average games. The numbers give the advantage to WMU here.
In his first full start at QB for NIU last week, Ryan Graham did a pretty good job at Buffalo versus an average Buffalo pass defense. NIU attempted the fewest passes they have all year, 24 (though not by much with games of 25, 25, 26 and 26 pass attempts, lol). Still, Graham through for a pretty good ypp average. WMU's pass defense is a little better than Buffalo's, and I expect NIU to lean on their run game a lot like they usually do anyway. That's not a bad thing, as Graham is a better runner than injured QB Hare. He helped NIU have a huge day on the ground @ Buffalo last week, helping NIU to the most rush yards they've had in a game this season. Docking NIU's offense for Hare's injury (and WR Lewis) wasn't justified last week (yes, I had the Under in that game), so I've reduced the impact to the NIU projections based on those injuries. For the season, though, NIU has been a below average rushing team when looking at compensated statistics. Can they do enough on the ground to win this game?
Everything has been looking pretty rosey for WMU in the match ups up to his point, but here's where this game evens up pretty quickly. NIU's rush offense, while average, is still better than WMU's rush defense, which is the one unit for the team that is below average. Teams with mobile QBs like Ohio, M-OH, EMU and Ball St. have especially given them fits. And then along comes the same sort of team in NIU.
NIU still played an uptempo offense last week even with it being QB Graham's first full game. They are bound to play that way again tonight in an effort to wear out the WMU defense. WMU, for their part, are slower than average, even in games in which they're losing. There doesn't seem to be much giddy-up to their offensive pace, which is odd considering what a total spazz HC Fleck is.
High winds favor NIU, and will probably keep me off any total play. Gun to head I'd still take the Over, especially with the line down to 60 now. This game should come down to the wire which means 4th quarter scoring that can put the game Over.
As for the side, I recommended a play on WMU at +4 when the lines came out, as I project them to win a close game.