Defensive Breakdown Football

By Matt Hopkinson

Two teams coming off completely opposite seasons will look to put a stamp on their first game of the year Saturday afternoon.

In the history of NIU, the Huskies will attempt to win their first game at Soldier Field. This contest will be played against a familiar Soldier Field foe in the Iowa Hawkeyes, who defeated the Huskies in 2007, 16-3.

For NIU to be successful, it will have to be able to shut down an offense led by a quarterback who put up over 3,000 yards passing in senior James Vandenberg.

The Huskies will be looking for everyone to be responsible and cover their assignments, but here’s who to look for from each unit of the defense and on special teams.

Defensive Line: Redshirt senior Sean Progar will look to lead by example for not only the line, but the entire defensive unit. Progar led the team last season in tackles, tied for the lead in sacks and will have to continue on such a pace for the defense to be completely effective. Also factoring in for the defensive line will be Zach Anderson, returning from a season-ending injury last season, and Alan Baxter, who was tied with Progar for sacks.

Linebackers: Without a doubt, the key at linebacker will be the return of the 2010 Defensive MVP and Linebacker of the Year Tyrone Clark. Clark led NIU with four interceptions in 2010, which was good enough for eighth in the conference. If Clark can return to the 2010 form, NIU will have another weapon to help cover in the secondary and to go out and make plays solo.

Defensive Backs: The defensive back group will be taxed with shutting down the passing game between Vandenberg and junior wide receiver Marvin McNutt, who led the Hawkeyes with 1315 receiving yards.

The key player for NIU will be junior cornerback Rashaan Melvin, who led NIU with pass break ups, and was tied for lead in interceptions with three. He was also second among defensive backs with 78 tackles. In addition to Melvin, NIU will need strong play from senior Demetrius Stone, and any others who will be rotating through, as Iowa has the potential for big passing plays.

Special Teams; An obvious choice for special teams would be from the receiving end with sophomore Tommylee Lewis, who scored twice on returns last season, which already put him atop the all-time NIU leaderboard. He also averaged 25.2 yards per return. If Lewis is able to even just put up his average, he could turn the tide of the game and help an offense that has several question marks heading into this game.

While both sides of the ball will be important, the defense will have to step up as they return a near full unit. If the defense is able to hold field position, force a turnover or anything in addition to playing solid, this will greatly increase the chance of NIU capturing its first Soldier Field victory.