Field position set up NIU for the win

By Chris Dertz

DeKALB | It’s easy to score points when you start on your opponent’s side of the 50-yard line.

Thanks to a combination of solid defense and poor special teams play by Buffalo, the Huskies were able to start in Bulls territory six times in their 45-14 victory on Saturday.

Three of those possessions began in Buffalo’s red zone, two of which ended in touchdowns. Overall, four of NIU’s six drives that began in Buffalo territory resulted in touchdowns.

It was this field position that made the difference in the early stages of the game, before the Huskies’ offense really got itself going.

In a first half that looked like a nail-biter, NIU finally took a lead by scoring after starting on Buffalo’s seven-yard line, thanks to a botched punt by the Bulls.

“These are things that irritate and aggravate you as a coach,” said Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn. “We work too hard, and you expect your kids to perform their very best, and we weren’t able to do that today.”

It was a combination of Buffalo playing poorly on special teams and NIU’s unit making plays that allowed the Huskies to start with the ball in position to score.

Despite missing three field goals, due in part to the extremely windy conditions, NIU’s special teams unit excelled in making plays when the Bulls went back to punt.

This was exemplified by NIU defensive back Jimmie Ward blocking his second punt of the season, giving the Huskies yet another opportunity to put some points on the board with a short field in front of them.

“Football’s a field position game,” said NIU head coach Jerry Kill. “We were on the short field a lot and [Buffalo] was on a longer field.”

With Buffalo having a longer field to trek across, and a stout Huskie defense in its way, the Bulls struggled to move the ball and play the type of offense that they are accustomed to.

“[Buffalo] snapped the ball 59 times and we snapped it 76,” Kill said. “They’re used to snapping it 92 times a game. That’s a huge stat because they’re used to being on the field all the time.”

A Bulls defense that looked to be up to the challenge of stopping NIU’s offense at the outset started to struggle after having to continually defend on a short field.

Three of NIU’s first five drives began at Buffalo’s 30, seven, and 20-yard lines, respectively.

“It’s difficult for anybody to start inside the 10-yard line,” said Buffalo defensive end Steven Means. “We just tried our best to execute. We try to use everything that happens to us as a positive thing.”