Toledo Rockets, NIU Huskies, EMU Eagles and Ball State Cardinals Face Off in Thursday Night #MACtion Tournament of Champions, Sort Of

NIU Huskies (6-2, 4-0) vs Toledo Rockets (7-1, 4-0)

Location: Glass Bowl, Toledo, OH

Time: 5 PM CT Thursday, November 2nd

Line: Toledo -8, O/U 58.5

TV: ESPN2

History: Toledo leads series 30-14, won last season

Ball State Cardinals (2-6, 0-4) vs Eastern Michigan Eagles (2-6, 0-4)

Location: Rynearson Stadium, Ypsilanti, MI

Time: 6 PM CT Thursday, November 2nd

Line: Eastern Michigan -23.5, O/U 47

TV: CBSSN

History: Ball State leads 34-22-2, EMU won last season

Tuesday night saw Bowling Green blow the doors off Kent State, while Ohio gradually pulled away to comfortably inch Miami (OH) one game further from bowl eligibility.

Wednesday night saw Western Michigan run Jarvion Franklin down the gut of the Central Michigan defense to the tune of 183 yards and two touchdowns…and still blow a two-touchdown lead because The Real Shane Morris arrived in the fourth quarter.

But that was just appetizer; tonight has what could easily be the most interesting MAC games for a while, as we get a defacto reshuffle of last week.

Last week, Eastern Michigan lost their sixth consecutive one-possession game on the road at Northern Illinois, which was also their second consecutive game losing in overtime by a field goal in a game where they missed at least one field goal. The Toledo Rockets, meanwhile, spent four quarters waxing the field with Ball State, which was the Cardinals’ fourth consecutive loss by at least four touchdowns.

Now these teams make like a tournament bracket shifting into winners’ and losers’ brackets, or an awkward Weeknight Maction squaredance, trading partners and doing it all over again.

Toledo vs NIU

Toledo is what they’ve always been with Logan Woodside under center, now even more so without Kareem Hunt; they will pass the ball over the field, run it just enough to keep you honest, and eventually keep punching you with big plays until you give up. That being said, while they’ve played several teams who have been much better on defense than on offense, Northern Illinois is by far the best defense they’ve faced. The Huskies have also faced Boston College, Nebraska and San Diego State so this isn’t just a defense feasting on weak offenses.

Northern Illinois, meanwhile, has ridden their defense to a 6-2 record that includes having gone 3-2 in one-score games. Their defense has been not just good, but sustainably good the defense has forced 17 turnovers and racked up 25 sacks through eight games, and that’s despite relatively beutral turnover luck which tells you it’s sustainable.

The key in this game is going to be big plays in the passing game. The Huskies’ defense has been excellent this season, except that they’ve still given up a buttload of big passing plays (99th in Passing IsoPPP). Toledo has a very explosive pass offense (12th in IsoPPP) that works a bit backwards, as they’re much more efficient on passing downs, but much more explosive on standard downs.

CMU’s win over WMU last night now means that the winner of this game will have a two-game lead over the rest of the division heading into the home stretch. Neither team has faced WMU yet and NIU also has CMU to go, but the victor will be comfortably in the driver’s seat. Can the Huskies prevent Toledo’s big-play offense from hitting home, and produce enough offense of their own for those defensive stops to make a difference? I personally don’t think so.

Toledo 42, NIU 31

 

Ball State at Eastern Michigan

These two teams have identical records but literally could not be more dissimilar. Eastern Michigan has lost six games in a row, but those six losses have been by a total of 23 points. If the Eagles score one more regulation field goal in each game they play, they’re currently on a three-game win streak and seeking bowl eligibility in this game. Instead, they’re one loss away from staying home in December.

The Eagles are completely devoid of a rushing offense, so they lean on their passing offense to get them ahead but also struggle to maintainthose leads without a consistent ability to control possession and the clock. The defense had their worst performance of the season last week and still held NIU to only 10 points through three quarters before fading late. The run offense – as evidenced by Ian Eriksen’s 281 yards in the last three weeks – has shown signs of improvement, but not enough for it to yet matter to the bottom line.

Ball State has been an absolute train wreck since they entered conference play. A 33-21 loss to Western Kentucky was just a portend of things to come, as the Cardinals offense has absolutely vanished since Riley Neal and James Gilbert’s injuries. When Neal got hurt he was on pace for 2600 yards and 24 touchdowns; Jack Milas has been a decided step down, as his stats to date project out to 2100 yards and a whopping zero touchdowns (versus what would be 18 INTs). He’s not nearly as accurate (53.4% vs 67.7%) nor as explosive (4.94 YPA vs 6.66); he’s also not playing tonight as he’s not quite healthy, and head coach Mike Neu already said that if he’s available he’s the backup.

No, it’s going to be redshirt freshman Drew Plitt after Zach Blair suffered a season-ending ankle injury last week versus Toledo. Plitt wasn’t necessarily the fourth-best quarterback the Cardinals have, but he is a redshirt freshman who has gotten first-team practice reps for the first time ever this week and will now make his first career road start. Freshman running back Caleb Huntley has done his best, but he also is no James Gilbert just yet.

Eastern Michigan is a 23.5-point favorite for a reason. They’re a defense-driven team facing a team with a toothless offense, and while their offense hasn’t been amazing they now face a team whose defense is essentially “boy I hope Anthony Winbush can get some sacks.” If they can kee Winbush at bay and get a lead, they’ll face a Cardinal offense that doesn’t have the explosiveness to play catch up, and they should handle the home win effectively. We might finally see the Eagles hold onto a lead.

Eastern Michigan 31, Ball State 17

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