NIU-North Dakota position breakdown, prediction

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Daily Chronicle beat writer Jeremy Werner breaks down the Northern Illinois-North Dakota matchup position-by-position. The Huskies and Cyclones kick off Saturday at 6 p.m. for the NIU season opener. The game will not be televised but will be broadcasted on the radio on WYLL 1160 AM.

Quarterback Neither team is satisfied with its quarterback play after Week 1. NIU starter DeMarcus Grady threw for 93 yards and three interceptions on 29 pass attempts. UND starter Jake Landry threw for 122 yards and two interceptions on 34 pass attempts. Most importantly, both quarterbacks lost. Chandler Harnish could replace Grady behind center this week, but even the two-year starter has something to prove on the field.EDGE: Tie

Running back NIU senior Chad Spann was a bright spot from the Week 1 loss to Iowa State with 80 rushing yards. He just doesn’t go down very easily. He should’ve gotten the ball a lot more last week, NIU coach Jerry Kill said, and he’ll get plenty of opportunities on Saturday, along with shifty backup Jasmin Hopkins. Josh Murray, Brent Goska and Mitch Sutton split carries for the Fighting Sioux but none pack the punch of Spann or have the breakaway ability of Hopkins.EDGE: Northern Illinois
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends UND will pass the ball, just not very far. Only four of Landry’s completions went for gains longer than 10 yards. Most of the passes last week went to the running backs, so the Fighting Sioux don’t stretch the field much. With Landon Cox and Nathan Palmer on the outside, the Huskies should do just that and find some big plays down the field.EDGE: Northern Illinois

Offensive line The NIU linemen average 308.6 pounds, and the Huskies start one sophomore and four upperclassmen. The UND linemen average 288.6 pounds, and the Fighting Sioux start two sophomores and a redshirt freshman. The Huskies’ line was the surprise of Week 1, Kill said.EDGE: Northern Illinois

Defensive line The Huskies had one sack against Iowa State (Sean Progar), partly due to quick passes from the Cyclones. That could be a low total for the season. Look for Progarm, Jake Coffman, Alan Baxter and D.J. Pirkle to pester UND’s Landry all night.EDGE: Northern Illinois

Linebackers Sophomore Tyrone Clark played well against Iowa State with nine tackles and his first career interception, but NIU needs more from the other starters: sophomore Devon Butler and senior Alex Kube, who have had a tendency to get lost in traffic.EDGE: Northern Illinois

Secondary NIU senior cornerback Patrick George was sorely missed against Iowa State. He is expected to be in uniform Saturday but how much he plays is uncertain. Sophomore corner Rashaan Melvin played well and could see more playing time, and senior safety Mike Sobol seems to be back to full strength and could get more reps. Cornerback Dominique Hawkins is the defensive leader for the Fighting Sioux.EDGE: Northern Illinois
Special teams NIU’s kicking situation turned out to be everything Kill feared. Michael Cklamovski missed two field goals (four if you count two practice kicks he got in due to Iowa State timeouts). Freshman Matthew Sims put one through the uprights from 19 yards out, but the kicking crew still seems to lack cohesiveness. UND will trot out redshirt freshman Zeb Miller, who has yet to attempt a collegiate field goal.EDGE: Tie

Intangibles Some FCS upsets of FBS teams last week (North Dakota State defeated Kansas) could embolden North Dakota, but they’re coming off a brutal 45-0 loss to Idaho. NIU is a veteran squad playing its home opener in what could still be a special season for the Huskies, despite an opening week setback to a good Iowa State squad.EDGE: Northern Illinois

PREDICTION:

Northern Illinois 34, North Dakota 7

(HuskieWire season record 1-0)

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