NIU football has not faced a ranked team this season. It has not faced a team that has the playmaking ability on either side of the ball like Florida State has.
Defensively, this puts a lot of pressure on all the players, but especially the secondary.
The secondary is primarily responsible for pass coverage, but they will need to play a role in stopping the running game as well.
Senior defensive back Demetrius Stone knows this, but believes in his team’s ability to find success.
“We know Florida State is a well-rounded team,” Stone said. “They have athletes all over the field so of course it’s gonna be a challenge on stopping them. It’s whatever the game plan is. If the game plan is to prepare for us to stop the run if it’s prepare for us to stop the pass then its stop the pass.”
While the secondary of NIU accounted for 11 of 15 interceptions, key members of the secondary are also big time tacklers, including senior Rashaan Melvin with 45, junior Jimmie Ward with 90 and Stone with 73.
“I think we definitely got a secondary that will come up and hit,” said senior defensive end Sean Progar. “They’re not all drop back and cover guys. Like Jimmie, Sticks [Melvin] is a really good open field tackler, Stone will do the same thing. Sean [Evans] will get his opportunity this week, he just got put into the lineup recently. He’s definitely not scared to get his nose in there either. We definitely have a secondary that will come up and fit the gap, same with the linebackers.”
While Progar mentions the willingness and ability of the secondary players to come up and make plays, he also knows the importance his position and the rest of the line brings to the success of the secondary, and vice versa.
“We gotta get after them up front so they [the secondary] don’t have to cover as long and they gotta cover them a little bit longer so we can get after them up front,” Progar said. “Hopefully we can get after them with just a four man rush so we don’t have to blitz and the linebackers can help them out with the coverage.”
With the ability of Florida State to both run and pass the ball, Stone highlights the keys that his coaches have stressed to him and his secondary teammates for their pass coverage responsibilities.
“Same thing he’s been stressing for us all year: footwork, your eyes, detailed in your assignment,” Stone said. “That’s the biggest thing: Be detailed in your assignment, go out there and try to make plays.”
Florida State will feature more than six receivers with more than 200 yards on the season, and a few that go well over 6’4”. The diverse talents and physical characteristics just necessitate that Stone and his fellow backs be more cognizant of which player is lined up at which time.
While Progar highlighted the duality and relationship between defensive positions, junior defensive tackle Anthony Wells believes that individual responsibility will lead to success.
“It’s all about gap fitting, really,” Wells said. “Everyone does their assignment, coach always says, ‘Do your one/eleventh,’ and you know we all should be good.”
For the defense of NIU to limit the play of Florida State, its defensive parts will have to work in tandem and each individual will have to know his responsibility. The secondary just has a bit more to think about than other players do.