Brian Thomas: The first half of NIU football’s season is officially in the books and the team sits at 5-1. Going into the season, people didn’t know what to expect from the Huskies, as there were a lot of questions surrounding them. Those questions seem to have been answered with a bang. But what has been the biggest key for the Huskies’ success this season? You can make a case for anyone on the offensive side of the ball, but I am going to pick the defense as a whole. I don’t think NIU is in the position its in without them. What about you, Matt?
Matt Hopkinson: I think while the defense has done a great job of supplying timely plays, they have not been the core reason for success. Just like in the pros, a good defense will only take you so far. What has been key, in my eyes, for NIU this season has been the playmaking abilities of quarterback Jordan Lynch, and also his offensive line. Both came into this season with huge question marks hanging over their head, and both have shattered those delusions. Lynch has accounted for 18 touchdowns this season, and the line has only allowed eight sacks.
BT: Lynch has definitely exceeded expectations and is a huge part of the Huskies’ success, but don’t overlook the Huskies defense so quickly. At this point last season, the Huskies had surrendered 208 points, giving up 49 points to Wisconsin and 48 to Central Michigan. This season it has only given up 135 points, its high being 40 against Army.
MH: However, the fact remains, that if not for Lynch and his skill set, the Huskies would be going nowhere fast. In their most recent game against Ball State, Lynch led a fourth quarter comeback for the third time already this season. The defense has made enough plays to keep NIU in the ball game, but it’s been up to Lynch to step up and finish the games, which he has done in spades. The games so far this season look similar to the results from last season, which was led by eventual MVP Chandler Harnish. Lynch is filling in that role in an eerily similar fashion, and will put himself in that company should he continue what he’s done so far.
BT: That’s the thing with NIU’s defense this season: It comes up with timely plays. Against Kansas, defensive end Alan Baxter came up with a huge sack at the end of the game, putting the Jayhwawks on their own 6-yard line on their final drive. Against Central Michigan, defensive end Sean Progar came up with a key interception with the Chippewas in the redzone, looking to score.
MH: While I agree that the defense has set the offense up for success at key points in certain games, the overall onus still falls squarely onto the shoulders of the signal caller. Lynch is the No. 1 rushing quarterback in the nation in terms of yardage, and is sitting at No. 8 in the nation in yards per game rushing. His dual-threat ability makes opposing teams’ defenses work harder and allows all other offensive players to become more dangerous. The team would not succeed without Lynch’s unique skill set. The name of the game is score, and Lynch has been able to run and gun the Huskies to the tune of 5-1 so far.