Defense is what makes this year special for NIU

By Matt Hopkinson

While NIU’s offense put up a relatively high score, what was more impressive for the football team was the defensive effort turned in against Eastern Michigan.

The 49 points in the game for NIU was the third-highest scored against the Eagles as well as the third-highest point total for NIU this season.

On the flip side, the seven points scored by Eastern Michigan was only the second time it was held to single digits. The other time was against defensive juggernaut Bowling Green, as the Eagles only managed a field goal in that contest.

The offensive yardage put forth by the Huskies wasn’t even close to the averages against the Eagles on the year, as both the rushing and passing yards came up shy.

The offense is not what’s important for NIU, especially when going against a team that has been as unsuccessful as Eastern Michigan. The defense is what stood out to me, and that’s what it will come down to for the MAC championship game.

The defense of NIU held the Eagles to just 4-13 on third down and 0-1 on fourth down. It intercepted a pass and was able to record three sacks and five total tackles for a loss. As a squad they also had seven pass breakups.

Despite not having a lot of flashy plays, big returns, or one standout name on the defense, the Huskies have lots of guys that most teams would consider their standout. Senior Tyrone Clark and junior Jamaal Bass get everywhere on the field from the linebacker position. The defensive backs have stepped up their game in the second half of the season and come up with big interceptions, especially in the Toledo game.

Even though it was a defensive effort against a low-win team, Eastern Michigan coach Ron English put it best.

“When the defense believes the offense can score, they play better,” English said in a news conference. “And when the defense doesn’t believe the offense can score consistently, they don’t. Real good football teams kind of have a sense of when it’s very important to answer. Just like when real good football teams have a feel of when you need to make a stop.”

This remark was not made directly about NIU, but I find it highly applicable to what has transpired over the course of the regular season for the Huskies.

Even in the first game against Iowa, the defense played incredible, but the offense was the letdown. From that point on, both sides of the ball have been playing in harmony. Make no mistake, however; the defense has been a huge factor.

It makes the offensive output look that much prettier when the opponent’s score is marginalized. It makes the difference against the good teams like Toledo, and it’s what allows a school to set a record in regular season wins for the first time ever, even though the last two years’ teams have featured just as much offensive firepower.