The Northern Illinois Huskies (8-5, 1st MAC-West) take on the University of Alabama – Birmingham Blazers (10-3, 1st Conf-USA- West) in the Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl. The game will be played on Tuesday, Dec. 18 with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m. Our 2018 Boca Raton Bowl pick has the Blazers at -2.5 and the over/under at between 42.5 and 43.5.
Northern Illinois, which had reeled of six straight conference regular-season wins, lost their last two league games. Still, they managed to finish first in the MAC-West. On Nov 30, they met Buffalo for the championship. The Huskies pulled out a late-game win, taking the conference title 30-29.UAB is exactly where everyone thought they would be. The Blazers ran off seven straight conference wins before they lost the last game of the season to the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. The Raiders, who took down UAB 27-3 in that game, finished first in the MAC-East. The two met on Dec. 1 for the league title, and the Blazers were victorious. The final was 27-25. In creating our 2018 Boca Raton Bowl pick we’ve determined that this will be a close game.
Northern Illinois Analysis
The Huskies offense has been lackluster. The team has averaged just 20.7 PPG. Their bread and butter is their rush attack, which has averaged 171.5 YPG. The team has been good for just 153.5 YPG in the air. This is a team that has struggled to get to the red zone, as they rank 110th in that area. Sophomore QB Marcus Childers (57.6 COMP%, 15 TDs, 10 INTs) will look to connect with WRs D.J. Brown (55 REC, 8.8 YPC, 5 TDs) and Juan Wesley (49 REC, 11.9 YPC, 2 TDs). Brown has big-play potential. Two running backs will be key, sophomore Tre Harbison (985 YDs, 5.2 YPA 4 TDS) and junior Marcus Jones (523 YDs, 5.6 YPA, 4 TDs).
The Huskies D has allowed teams 21.5 PPG. Although their passing defense has given up 238.2 YPG, their rushing D has been stingy. NIU has given up on average just 109.7 YPG. The star of the defense is LB/DE Sutton Smith who has 15 sacks and 24.5 TFL. He’s also forced four fumbles and recovered three. Other top performers include senior LB/DE Josh Corcoran and senior LB Antonio Jones-Davis. Corcoran has 10 sacks and 12.5 TFL, while Jones-Davis leads team in tackles with 119. He also notched four sacks and 13.5 TFL. Of the 13 fumbles the team has caused, they have recovered 11.
The Blazers bring a potent rush attack to the field. Of their 400.3 offensive yards per game, 208.8 of those yards have been on the ground. UAB has averaged 191.5 YPG in the air. They averaged 29.3 PPG. Although this season both senior A.J. Erdely (56.1 COMP%, 7 TDs, 7 INTs) and freshman Tyler Johnston III (56.8 COMP%, 7 TDs, 8 INTs) have served as QBs for the team, we expect the frosh to start. No matter who sees action, we expect UAB to utilize their ground attack. Johnston is the better runner. He’s averaged 4.1 YPA and scored four rushing TDs. The primary ground gainer for the Blazers will be sophomore RB Spencer Brown (1149 YDs, 4.7 YPA, 16 TDs). If Brown has a solid game, UAB stands a good chance of winning.
The UAB defense has been tough, keeping opponents to 17.3 PPG. Of the 300.8 YPG they allowed, 118.8 are ground yards. That leaves 181.9 YPG in the air. Sophomore DL Jamell Garcia-Williams with 9.5 sacks and 15.5 TFL. LBs Tre’ Crawford and Chris Woolbright are two other key performers. Crawford has accumulated 8.0 sacks and 12.0 TFL, while Woolbright is responsible for 13.5 TFL and 2.0 sacks. UAB defenders have 45 PD, over 100 TFL, and 42 sacks.
Five Keys to the Game
- UAB defense is superior, especially in red zone
- Blazers rush attack needs to dominate
- NIU rush D is solid and must play to full potential
- Huskies offense must take advantage of any miscues
- NIU QB a bit better than UAB’s
Our 2018 Boca Raton Bowl Pick
Our 2018 Boca Raton Bowl pick finds that UAB should outlast NIU. The Blazers are deeper on offense and more solid on offense. Don’t expect much passing in this game. Both teams will feature their rush attack. Our 2018 Boca Raton Bowl pick is UAB at -2.5. As far as our totals pick is concerned, it’s important to note that both defenses have struggled late season, with each allowing about 29 PPG. We expect the Huskies to give up about 36 points. The Blazer will give up about 14. We’re going with over 42.0. For more bowl picks, see our full schedule of 2018 postseason contests.