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Miami (Ohio) vs. Northern Illinois Prediction: RedHawks Fight for Their Postseason Chances on Wednesday Night Against the Huskies

Miami must win MACtion matchup with Northern Illinois to have any shot of bowl eligibility.

For the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks, the mission is pretty clear entering Wednesday night's game against the Northern Illinois Huskies: win if you want to play in December.

Miami (4-6, 2-4 MAC) has to win its last two games if it wants to become bowl eligible. The RedHawks put themselves in this position by losing three of their past four games, the most recent a 37-21 beatdown at home last Tuesday courtesy of archrival Ohio.

Meanwhile, Northern Illinois (3-7, 2-4) is the defending MAC champions, but the Huskies have been relegated to the role of spoiler this season. Although NIU was eliminated from bowl consideration two weeks ago, it returned the favor to West Division rival Western Michigan last Wednesday with a 24-21 road win over the Broncos.

Miami has won the two past two meetings (in 2018, '19) with Northern Illinois to take a 10-9 edge in the series. These teams also met in the 2010 MAC Championship Game, which the RedHawks won 26-21.

Miami (Ohio) at Northern Illinois

Kickoff: Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Northern Illinois -1.5
Tickets: As low as $3 on*

When Miami (Ohio) Has the Ball

Even though the RedHawks lost last week to Ohio, the offense is trending up following the return of quarterback Brett Gabbert. A preseason MAC Offensive Player of the Year candidate, Gabbert has played in only four games because of injury. Against the Bobcats, he went 20-for-26 for 244 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. Gabbert and wide receiver Mac Hippenhammer hooked up eight times for 107 yards and all three scores.

Unfortunately, Gabbert also suffered an ankle injury on the final play of the game, putting his status for this Wednesday night in doubt. Head coach Chuck Martin said late last week that Gabbert was in a boot but he's hopeful the extra day will give him enough time to heal and be cleared to play. If Gabbert can't go, Aveon Smith would get the call again. He's completing 52 percent of his passes on the season with seven touchdowns and four interceptions, and the team is 3-3 with him as the starter.

Smith is more of a running threat than Gabbert, as he's second on the team with 314 rushing yards and tied for the team lead with three touchdowns. And his dual-threat ability could be vital considering the trouble the RedHawks had running the ball last week. Miami totaled just 69 yards on 21 carries with only three attempts going for 10 or more yards. Running back Keyon Mozee needs to find a way to improve upon the 3.5 yards per carry he's averaging in MAC games.

But running the ball isn't easy against Northern Illinois in the first place. The Huskies are No. 1 in rushing defense in conference-only games at 132.5 yards per game, although Miami at least has to try to keep NIU's defense off-balance. Gabbert should be able to do some damage with his arm (Huskies have given up 13 TDs with 4 INTs in MAC games), but the real key for the RedHawks is to get the ball into the red zone. Northern Illinois is 127th in all of FBS this season when opponents get inside the 20-yard line, giving up 34 scores in 36 trips (94.4 percent). And 27 of those scores have been touchdowns.

When Northern Illinois Has the Ball

It wasn't necessarily pretty, but the Huskies got the job done last week against Western Michigan, thanks in large part to the efforts of running back Jaiden Credle. With running backs Harrison Waylee and Antario Brown, the team's top two rushers, unavailable, Credle not only stepped up, he carried the NIU offense. He ran for 136 yards and a touchdown on 36 carries as the passing game struggled mightily. Backup quarterback Justin Lynch added 83 on the ground on six attempts, and his nine-yard touchdown run with less than a minute left proved to be the winning score.

Credle's and Lynch's contributions were especially important given quarterback Nevan Cremascoli's struggles. The true freshman was making his second start and completed just eight of 17 passes for 133 yards and a touchdown while tossing three interceptions. He was pulled in the fourth quarter, setting the stage for Lynch's heroics, with a huge assist from Credle. Northern Illinois has used four different signal-callers because of injuries, which has impacted the production the team has gotten from the position. Don't be surprised if head coach Thomas Hammock rotates quarterbacks on Wednesday night.

Quarterback concerns aside, the bread and butter of NIU's offense has always been running the ball, and if Waylee and/or Brown are able to return for this game to team up with Credle, the Huskies will have multiple options to try and gain ground against a Miami (Ohio) defense that has done a good job against the run. The RedHawks are third in conference-only games at 138.3 rushing yards allowed per game and have surrendered just six touchdowns in as many games (fewest of any MAC team).

Final Analysis

Miami (Ohio) is in must-win mode, but the ankle injury to Brett Gabbert complicates things. When he's in there (and healthy), the RedHawks' offense looks completely different. Northern Illinois is merely playing out the string and has had all sorts of issues at quarterback due to injury and ineffectiveness. But the Huskies certainly aren't going to roll over at home and will try and use their running game to control the clock. Even with Gabbert's uncertainty, Miami has the momentum and the motivation. RedHawks find a way to get the win in DeKalb to keep their postseason hopes alive.

Prediction: Miami (Ohio) 23, Northern Illinois 20

*Price as of publication.