LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 16: Northern Illinois Huskies defensive end Sutton Smith (15) celebrates sacking Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Tanner Lee (13) during the second half on September 16, 2017 at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. Northern Illinois beat Nebraska 21 to 17. (Photo by John Peterson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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Florida State returns to Tallahassee in a desperate attempt to regroup against the Northern Illinois Huskies. There’s not much good news circulating around the program after a 30-7 loss to Syracuse, and there won’t be until the team wins convincingly. That seems like a pipe dream at the moment.

It doesn’t get much easier against a Northern Illinois team expected to compete for a MAC title. While it’s not a premier opponent, Northern Illinois is a capable team who has already played a better Power 5 opponent much closer. Head coach Willie Taggart and FSU need some momentum before the tough stretch of their schedule begins. Can they find it on Saturday afternoon?

2018 Record: 1-2 (1-0 MAC)
2018 S&P Offensive Ranking: 128th
2018 S&P Defensive Ranking: 13th
2018 S&P Special Teams Ranking: 125th

On Offense

Behold, FSU fans. A team worse on offense than the Seminoles.

That seems crazy, but S&P supports the statement. Northern Illinois scored just 13 points combined against FBS opponents Iowa and Utah. The one win of the season was over Central Michigan with 24 points. Needless to say, the Huskies have fallen on hard times since that 2012 Orange Bowl match-up.

The top Northern Illinois quarterback is Marcus Childers, with 325 passing yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions on 56.6 percent completions. That’d be a great stat line for one individual contest. As it is, Childers possesses a nearly unfathomable 4.28 yards per attempt average. D.J. Brown and Jauan Wesley are the top two receivers, combining for 254 yards and two touchdowns.

Northern Illinois fares better on the ground with lead running back Tre Harbison, who had a breakout game last week against the Chippewas. Harbison has ran for 228 yards on 7.1 yards per carry. He’s assisted by Jordan Nettles, with a much less impressive 130 yards on 4.1 yards per carry.

It’s hard to see where the Huskies will go for an offensive spark. They might fare better by continuing to take deep shots like Samford did. It’s not their strength, but at this point, it’s the only facet of the FSU defense which is still susceptible.

On Defense

The Huskies kept it close against Utah and beat Central Michigan on the back of their defense. They returned most of their contributors from a similarly impressive group in 2017, and they haven’t lost a step yet.

Florida State will be disheartened to see that the Huskies excel in stopping the run. Their front-seven is disciplined and talented, and it’s led by defensive end Sutton Smith, who racked up a ridiculous 29.5 tackles for loss last season. He already has 6.5 this year along with a forced fumble. Ben LeRoy at defensive tackle is another returner who has picked up in 2018 right where he left off.

The Seminoles can win match-ups in the secondary if they’re able to execute. Northern Illinois simply doesn’t have the cornerbacks or safeties to consistently come out on top, and it showed against Utah. Tyler Huntley passed for 286 yards and carried the Ute offense during their contest a couple of weeks ago.

On Special Teams

S&P ratings make it seem like they’re a train wreck on special teams. In reality, they just aren’t efficient. The Huskies have virtually no return game to speak of, with only one such opportunity going for more than 20 yards.

Placekicker Andrew Gantz is 3-for-5 on field goals and 4-for-4 on extra points. He likely won’t be getting much action on Saturday. Punter Matt Ference has a respectable 42.8 average, though he’s managed six punts of 50-plus yards and eight inside the 20-yard line.

Summary

Northern Illinois appears to be the Group-of-5 equivalent to Florida State. It has a horrible offense, very good defense, and forgettable special teams. Difference being that FSU has more highly-rated recruits on its sideline.

Florida State opened up as multi-score favorites for this one, and it’s becoming more clear why that is. Unless Northern Illinois is able to provoke defensive touchdowns and explosive passing plays, it is going to be shut down when it comes to Doak Campbell Stadium. Whereas most think that the Syracuse game was supposed to be an offensive shootout, the obvious prediction for this one is a defensive slugfest.

The only aspect of this game with a totally clear advantage is Florida State’s receivers against the Northern Illinois secondary. Will that be enough to jumpstart a completely anemic unit? It doesn’t look likely, but the Seminoles will likely be able to score a couple times with their help.

Saturday afternoon might get ugly. But not because of a blowout.