CSJ 2021 Tailgreeter Cure Bowl Preview: Coastal Carolina vs. Northern Illinois


This Cure Bowl is another great match-up just like the game was a year ago. Coastal Carolina makes a return visit after losing the game last year versus Liberty in overtime. Northern Illinois makes its first appearance in this bowl game and the first from any MAC school in this bowl game.

This will be the seventh Cure Bowl in its history. The bowl’s primarily has tie-ins are with the American Athletic Conference and Sun Belt Conference with Conference USA and the MAC being alternates.

NIU went from a winless team (0-6) in the COVID-19 2020 season to being the MAC champions this 2021 season. Coastal won a share of the Sun Belt crown and went undefeated in the regular season last year and finished this 2021 season tied for second in the Sun Belt East Division.

This will be the Chanticleers second bowl game ever, with the first of course being last year’s Cure Bowl.

For the Huskies, it will be their 14th bowl game and first since 2018. NIU is currently 4-9 in bowl games but has lost their last six bowl games. They haven’t won a bowl game since the 2011-12 season, when they beat Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl January of 2012.

These two schools will meet for the first time in their histories in this game. Coastal is 1-3 all-time against MAC schools with the first win coming earlier this year over Buffalo. NIU is 2-0 all-time against Sun Belt foes with both coming in bowl games–2012 against Arkansas State and 2004 against Troy.

The Northern Illinois offense ranks 43rd in scoring, while the defense is 107th and gives up more than 213 yards on the ground and through the air. Coastal Carolina, on the other hand, ranks in the top 20 in scoring offense and defense. Here is below is some more statistical comparisons between the two teams:

Season Stats

Coastal CarolinaStatsNorthern Illinois
40.4Avg. Points Scored31.5
20.0Avg. Points Allowed32.7
492.2Avg. Total Yards420.0
325.9Avg. Total Yards Allowed448.3




The Chanticleers won double digit games for the second straight season and were just five points short combined in their two losses this season to repeat with an undefeated record.

Coastal’s biggest win probably was the home win over the Big 12’s Kansas. The two losses were to the teams tied or above them in the Sun Belt East Division standings in Appalachian State and Georgia State.

Coastal has the fourth-best offense in the country at 40.4 points per game. They rush for 231.2 yards (ranked sixth) and pass for 261.8 yards (ranked 37th).

Starting QB Grayson McCall missed some time with an upper-body injury, but was able to return for the last two games of the season. He has 2,558 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and three interceptions on 73 percent completion. Four receivers have over 200 receiving yards on the season. Leading WR Jaivon Heiligh has 59 receptions for 1,034 yards and seven touchdowns. TE Isaiah Likely is a nightmare to matchup and has 52 catches for 816 yards and 10 touchdowns. WR Kameron Brown has 567 yards and RB Braydon Bennett has also pitched in with 248 receiving yards.

Shermari Jones has led the team in rushing with 988 yards and 13 touchdowns. Behind him, Bennett chips in with 528 yards and five touchdowns. McCall is asked to run a decent amount and has produced 250 yards and four touchdowns.

The CCU defense has also been strong this season in allowing just 20 points per game to rank 19th in the country. They concede 133.8 yards on the ground (ranked 39th) and 191.1 passing yards per game (ranked 15th). LB Silas Kelly leads the team with 95 tackles. DT Josaiah Stewart has made an impact with his 12.5 sacks.

Key Player: QB Grayson McCall

As mentioned, McCall missed a couple of games with his injury but in the last two games, he has was back to his normal normal self. He threw for over 300 yards in the first game back in a win at home over Texas State and in the season finale, he showed more of his running ability with 59 yards on the ground and a touchdown. He will need to mix in the pass and run game in this game against a defense at times is better than their 32 points given up range.




Northern Illinois as mentioned earlier had quite the turnaround this season, getting to nine wins and a MAC Championship after defeating Kent State in the MAC title game. This was all after going winless in 2020. NIU is the first team in FBS history to win its conference championship game one season after zero wins the season before.

The Huskies were able to secure victories over five bowl-eligible teams this season including win at the ACC’s Georgia Tech to start the season. All four losses on the year have come to bowl-eligible teams.

The Huskies score 31.5 points per game, which ranks 43rd in the country. They have the fifth-best rushing attack in the country at 234.2 yards per game and also pass for 187.8 yards per game, which ranks 105th.

Big Ten Michigan State-transfer QB Rocky Lombardi has headed the Northern Illinois offense this season. He has passed for 2,416 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions on 58.1 percent completion. Three receivers have over 400 receiving yards on the season. WR Trayvon Rudolph leads the team in all major categories with 49 receptions for 877 yards and seven touchdowns. WR Tyrice Richie has 540 receiving yards and fellow WR Cole Tucker has 488 yards.

Five players have more than 400 rushing yards for the Huskies. Their leading rusher is RB Jay Ducker, who has 1,038 yards and three touchdowns. Harrison Waylee is second on the team with 574 rushing yards. Versatile player Clint Ratkovich, running back Antario Brown and Lombardi each have over 400 yards. Ratkovich leads the teams in rushing touchdowns with 12.

The Huskies have allowed 32.7 points per game, which ranks 107th in the country. The Huskies give up 215.6 rushing yards (ranked 120th) and 232.1 passing yards (ranked 72nd). S CJ Brown leads the team with 103 tackles. DT Devonte O’Malley paces the team with four sacks.

Key Player: QB Rocky Lombardi

Lombardi just seems to have a sixth sense about him and it comes out it seems late in games. He seems to know when to rusher is coming and can avoid him with his legs. His numbers are not great with eight interceptions on on the season so he will need to take care of the ball as I think NIU will have to win the turnover battle to have a chance for this win.

Fearless Predication:

This might be the best bowl game of this opening weekend of postseason play. We have a conference champion from this year in NIU and a conference champion from a year ago in Coastal. The Chanticleers though on paper have the stronger team but there is something out of the ordinary about the Huskies that seems to keep them in games–something like getting a turnover or a big special teams play. I think that NIU will get its share of fortunate plays but I just don’t think it will be quite enough to over come the talent of Coastal. The game will be close until the Chanticleers pull away in the fourth quarter. Coastal Carolina 38 Northern Illinois 27