Cure Bowl: NIU will be tested by Coastal Carolina potent option offense

  • Members of the winning Northern Illinois team celebrate after the Mid-American Conference championship game against Kent State Dec. 4 in Detroit.

    Members of the winning Northern Illinois team celebrate after the Mid-American Conference championship game against Kent State Dec. 4 in Detroit. Associated Press

  • Northern Illinois running back Jay Ducker -- here in the MAC Championship game Dec. 4 -- leads the Huskies' rushing attack, which averages 234.2 yards per game.

    Northern Illinois running back Jay Ducker -- here in the MAC Championship game Dec. 4 -- leads the Huskies' rushing attack, which averages 234.2 yards per game. Associated Press

 
By Eddie Carifio
Shaw Media
Updated 12/16/2021 6:25 PM

Northern Illinois looks for its first bowl win since the 2011 season while Coastal Carolina searches for its first at the FBS level as the teams meet Friday at the Cure Bowl in Orlando, Fla.

The Chanticleers (10-2) became an FBS program in 2017 and played in their first bowl game last year, also at the Cure Bowl. NIU (9-4) has lost six straight bowls, last appearing in the 2018 Boca Raton Bowl, losing 37-13 to Alabama-Birmingham.

 

Kickoff is 5 p.m. on ESPN2.

Scouting the Chanticleers

They rank seventh in college football with 493.1 yards per game, while the Huskies are allowing 447.7 yards per game -- 113th among FBS teams.

The weaponry starts with Sun Belt Player of the Year Grayson McCall, who has a 207.9 passer efficiency ranking to lead all of FBS -- the all-time high at the end of a season is 203.1 held by Mac Jones of Alabama, set last year.

"I think it's going to be a physical football game," coach Jamey Chadwell said. "We hope we can have some advantage with speed, but we're going to have to play well. They're champions for a reason. They find ways to win."

McCall's top targets have been Jaivon Heiligh and Isaiah Likely. Heiligh has 59 catches for 1,034 yards and 7 touchdowns, while Isaiah Likely has 52 catches for 816 yards and 10 TDs.

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The Chanticleers are also 17th in total defense, allowing 324.8 yards. But Chadwell was quick to point out the NIU run game and its domination of time of possession, ranked 10th in the country.

"They have had a tremendous season and a great turnaround there," Chadwell said. "The thing that jumps out is they've dominated the ball. They're one of the tops in the country. They're going to possess it."

How does the NIU defense handle the Coastal offense?

The Huskies are coming off one of their best defensive performances, beating Kent State 41-23 for the MAC title. Barely a month earlier, the Huskies lost 52-47 to the Flashes.

The Chanticleers deploy an option offense, something the Huskies haven't seen much.

"I'm honestly excited about it because in the MAC we don't have that," linebacker Nick Rattin said. "I think it's going to be a good challenge. They're a good team with great players and their quarterback does a great job of putting the offense through him."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Chanticleers get 261.8 yards per game in the air and a sixth-best in the nation 231.2 yards on the ground. The Huskies are fifth in rushing yards per game at 234.2.

NIU coach Thomas Hammock said it all comes down to controlling the option.

"They're going to get you in space and there's going to be some one-on-one opportunities," Hammock said. "We have to make those one-one-one plays. We have to have great eye discipline with all the different things they've got going on with their offense."

Bowling for first time

For most of the NIU players -- the second-youngest team in FBS -- a bowl is a new experience.

"I know we're the second-youngest team in college football, but they are pretty mature in terms of football and what they want to accomplish," Hammock said. "I don't think you win the type of games we've been able to win without a competitive maturity."

For senior running back Clint Ratkovich, who has playoff experience at the FCS level, this is his first bowl game.

"Honestly some of the younger guys are helping me out a little bit because I've never been to a bowl game," he said.

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