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Opponent Q&A: Previewing Northwestern vs. NIU with Hustle Belt

Norman Miller from SB Nation's MAC site Hustle Belt answers our questions about the NU-NIU matchup.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Norman Miller from SB Nation's MAC site Hustle Belt answers our questions about the NU-NIU matchup.

Henry Bushnell: So what is the general feeling among Northern Illinois fans and media regarding Saturday's game? Would it be seen as an upset if NIU wins? Or is a win the expectation?

Norman Miller: Guarded optimism. NIU fans don't believe their team can now waltz into any B1G stadium and come out with a victory because of last year's road wins at Iowa and Purdue, but they do feel the Huskies can definitely compete with the bottom half of the conference. NU is coming off of a disappointing year so I'd say both the fans and media are expecting a close game with NIU winning by about three. That confidence was probably bolstered by NU's opening loss to a suspect Cal team.

If the Huskies happen to drop this contest, as long as it's close, I think most fans will be fine. There's a built in qualifier with the new quarterback situation that conveniently allows for some early season let downs. If they were to get blown out, then we'd probably have some seriously depressed dog lovers.

HB: With Jordan Lynch having moved on, how much, if at all, has the offense changed?

NM: As amazing of a player as Jordan Lynch was, he was in the perfect offense for his talents. The spread offense and read option NIU ran allowed him to take one quick look at the receiver and either throw it, or tuck it and run. While no one will ever run this offense that well again, ever, the new quarterbacks will be running pretty much the same attack. NIU's offense goes pretty much just like this: Run up the middle, jet sweep, swing pass, QB draw, run up the middle, screen pass and then a deep ball.

Expect a lot of short, quick passes early. That's the Huskies offense anyways, but keeping McIntosh comfortable and confident early would be a wise move. Then, when the defense comes up, you'll see a deep shot down field.

The obvious difference from last year will be the shift of carries away from the quarterback and onto the running backs. Though these quarterbacks will still be running maybe 10 to 12 times a game.

HB: It's obviously difficult to take too much away from one game against a team like Presbyterian, but what are the scouting reports on quarterbacks Matt McIntosh and Drew Hare?

NM: McIntosh was named the starter today. So if he plays well I don't think you'll see Hare or Anthony Maddie. It's the decision Huskies fans have been waiting for and everyone's really curious to see how he'll handle it. He was fine at home, versus Presbyterian, with a QB rotation system. That's a little less pressure than being named the "man", on the road, against a B1G school. As of now, the full report on McIntosh is unknown. But here's what we do know about him: Solid arm, decent accuracy, good deep ball and OK runner. He's a well rounded quarterback who seems to be able to run the offense efficiently and effectively, if not spectacularly. This game will be a big decider of the fans confidence in him as the next NIU quarterback.

If you need a scouting report on Drew Hare, just rearrange the adjectives used for the report on McIntosh. They're very similar in skill set and size. Hare is a RS sophomore, while McIntosh is a RS junior.

HB: What's the one aspect of this NIU team that Northwestern will struggle to deal with on Saturday?

NM: NIU has an abundance of offensive team speed at the skill positions. WR Da'ron Brown has great deep speed on the outside and Tommylee Lewis is a lightening quick opposite him. Lewis has four career kickoff returns for touchdowns. Also seeing action on three receiver sets will also be an impressive and fast athlete in Aregeros Turner along with the shifty quick Chad Beebe (son of NFLer Don Beebe).

There's now plenty of speed at running back with the return of Akeem Daniels. Daniels sat out last season with a foot injury. Prior to his first action back last week, the last time we saw Daniels, he was streaking down the Florida State sideline for a 55 yard pass in the 2013 Orange Bowl.

HB: What's the one aspect of this NIU team that Northwestern should try to take advantage of?

The secondary. Marlon Moore has been moved from corner to safety, helping to fill the void Jimmy Ward left after he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. There's also a few freshman corner backs seeing quite a bit of action in the nickel. They're all very athletic, but there is some inexperience back there. Presbyterian should have had a long completion last week on one of those freshman corners but the receiver dropped the ball. By the end of the year they may be really good, but right now it's possible a few mistakes could be made and NU could capitalize on one of them.

HB: Give me one NIU player to watch on Saturday that you haven't already mentioned.

NM: Middle linebacker Boomer Mays. He's a 243 pound tackling machine. He has a great nose for the ball and I expect you'll be hearing his name quite a bit on Saturday.