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BC Football Kickoff: Northern Illinois Offense/Defense Preview

NCAA Football: Boston College at Northern Illinois Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

It still doesn’t quite feel like it [to me] but Boston College football kicks off in just a few more days. On the other side are the Huskies of Northern Illinois. Today, we’ll take a closer look at what stands in the way of the Eagles starting off the season with a win.

O-Line Strength

The Huskies employ a strong rushing attack. Even though two of their top three leading rushers are gone, they maintain a veteran offensive line with 200 games of experience to lean on. Despite also being one of the worst teams in the MAC a season ago, they allowed the fewest sacks in the conference, were top-10 nationally in back to back years, and were second in rushing yards (190.4 ypg). The two main rushers are going to be Antario Williams, who was second on the team with 689 yards and seven touchdowns, and Gavin Williams, who averaged four yards per carry at Iowa.

Veteran QB

Rocky Lombardi returns at quarterback for his seventh (!) season after injury cut last season short. He spent his first three years at Michigan State before transferring to Northern Illinois and instantly bringing home a MAC championship. In that 2021 season, he contributed to the rushing attack with nearly 500 yards and added nine touchdowns. The super senior is on the Reese’s Senior Bowl Watch List, one of only two MAC quarterbacks with the honor.

Top Weapon

He has a big arm as well and now reconnects with his leading receiver Trayvon Rudolph. Rudolph also happened to miss last season with injury, but that previous season he collected nearly 900 of Lombardi’s 2,600 yards. He also doubles in the kick return game. In 2020, Rudolph earned first team Freshman All-American honors as a returner after finishing top 10 nationally in all-purpose yards.

Defensive Line Experience

The defensive front has the experience to hold up as well. The roster overall has 17 returning starters and features 35 players in the twilight of their collegiate careers. Three players up front have over 20 starts. Defensive tackle James Ester was named the team’s MVP last year and given conference honors as well. Devonte O’Malley may have been a walk-on, but he’s since been recognized by the Nagurski Trophy Watch List for the nation’s top defensive player. The junior was the team’s defensive player of the year and give first team all conference honors.

The linebacking corps is where the team loses some of their top tacklers from last season. That lost production has required a few players to shift positions. Jaden Dolphin is the leading tackler in the linebacking group and will move inside. They’ve also added in two senior transfers who boast a whole lot of experience and production.

Hoping for Improvement

The secondary struggled mightily last season allowing 252.8 passing yards per game to go with 32.8 points per game. Both of these were in bottom quartile of college football. The chatter out of their camp is that they are a vastly improved group, but this is still where Emmett Morehead and co. will need to exploit. CJ Brown returns at safety and was the clear leader of the group with 76 tackles and five pass break-ups, honored conference-wide.

The bottom line is this is a veteran group all around. They have the core of a team that did win a conference championship. A down year in part due to injuries shouldn’t be a reason to overlook this team. BC has to maintain physicality against this sort of opponent.