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Tailgreeter Cure Bowl Prediction and Preview: Northern Illinois vs. Coastal Carolina

Tailgreeter Cure Bowl Prediction and Preview: Northern Illinois Huskies vs. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers

MAC champion Northern Illinois takes on Coastal Carolina from the Sun Belt for the first time in a matchup of explosive offenses

Among the very first of the bowl games, the Tailgreeter Cure Bowl could be an opportunity for showcasing offense. Northern Illinois, the Mid-American Conference champion, come into this bowl game averaging nearly 32 points per game. Coastal Carolina, second in the Sun Belt East, has averaged 40 points per game.

Related: College Football Picks for Every Bowl Game in 2021-22

The bowl game is a new experience that both players and coaches for Northern Illinois are undertaking. Northern Illinois last played in a bowl game in 2018, which means a significant number of players on their roster were in high school when the Huskies were involved in a postseason game. Even Northern Illinois head coach Thomas Hammock has had a drought in bowl game preparations, as Hammock was last involved in a bowl game as an assistant at Wisconsin in 2013.

The lack of bowl game experience is not something that Coastal Carolina needs to deal with, as the Chanticleers played in a bowl game in 2020. Coastal Carolina lost to Liberty in the Cure Bowl 37-34 in overtime and would certainly seem eager to be on the winning side of the ledger to conclude the 2021 season.

Tailgreeter Cure Bowl: Northern Illinois (9-4) vs. Coastal Carolina (10-2)

Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 17 at 6 p.m. ET
Where: Exploria Stadium (Orlando, Fla.)
TV: ESPN2
Spread: Coastal Carolina -10

When Northern Illinois Has the Ball

Northern Illinois is one of the 2021 college football success stories, as the Huskies went from an 0-6 record in 2020 to a 9-4 record that included defeating Kent State for the MAC championship. A significant factor in the rebound of Northern Illinois has been the offensive approach by the Huskies. Northern Illinois averages 234 yards per game on the ground, while also passing for 188 yards per game.

Northern Illinois quarterback Rocky Lombardi has passed for 2416 yards, 13 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. Lombardi has two comparable targets at receiver in Trayvon Rudolph (49 rec., 877 yds., 7 TDs) and Tyrice Richie (44, 520, TD). Jay Ducker leads the Northern Illinois running game, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Ducker has rushed for 1,038 yards and 3 touchdowns this season.

Coastal Carolina has a solid defensive team, only giving up 20 points per game. One of the key defenders for the Chanticleers is freshman defensive tackle Josaiah Stewart. Stewart has collected 12.5 sacks this season and also caused 3 forced fumbles.

When Coastal Carolina Has the Ball

Coastal Carolina is five points away from being undefeated. The Chanticleers lost to Appalachian State in October on the last play of the game, as the Mountaineers kicked the game-winning field goal. Another painful loss was to Georgia State, as Coastal Carolina was unsuccessful in a two-point conversion play.

The key to the Coastal Carolina offense is the play of quarterback Grayson McCall. McCall has passed for 2,558 yards, completing 73 percent of his passes, with 23 touchdowns versus three interceptions. McCall has also contributed as an occasional runner, scoring four touchdowns.

Coastal Carolina has many offensive weapons at its disposal. Wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh (59 rec., 1,034 yds., 17.2 ypr, 7 TDs) and tight end Isaiah Likely (52, 816, 15.2, 10) are McCall's primary targets, while running back Shermari Jones has rushed for 988 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.

Northern Illinois ranked near the bottom of several MAC defensive categories. Among the Huskies' better defenders is safety CJ Brown, who leads Northern Illinois with 103 tackles. Another key defender who will be tasked with slowing down the Coastal Carolina passing game is cornerback Jordan Gandy, who leads the Huskies with 10 passes defended.

Final Analysis

Coastal Carolina knows that only five points separated it from a bigger bowl game stage and should be able to score frequently against a Northern Illinois team that has relied upon outscoring their opponents this season. Northern Illinois may try to slow down the pace, but the Chanticleers may have too much for the Huskies in this early bowl game.

Prediction: Coastal Carolina 42, Northern Illinois 21

— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He also is podcasting for Buckeye Scoop. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.

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