NIU defense bends but not breaks

By Brian Wiencek

Three days have passed since NIU’s 27-21 frightening victory over the Flames of Liberty University. The films are out and being reviewed, but who needs the films?

Any one of the players on the field or the fans in the stands could tell you that the offense squeaked out only six points in the entire second half care of junior placekicker Brian Steger. Then they could continue and tell you that the defense completely stalled giving up more than their points allowed season average (16.3) all season in just two quarters.

The NIU defense sparked talks of a shutout after almost a flawless first half but then inconsistency struck in a quarter that had been defensively perfect all season—the third quarter. The Huskie defense had not allowed a single score in the third quarter in six games until the brain of Liberty head coach Sam Rutigliano came up with the fake field goal with 10:02 remaining that gave the Flames their first score of the game.

However, they did not stop there as Liberty scored two more times in the fourth quarter, which came as no surprise. Fifty-three percent of Huskie oppositions’ points this season have come in the fourth quarter.

While the defense did manage to hold Liberty to 138 rushing yards, they could not contain the passing game as they allowed 210 yards and 348 yards of total offense.

Despite some flaws, the defense had some strong points as they forced two fumbles and one interception. MacArthur Griffin led the day with eight solo and 10 total tackles, while breaking up two passes. Senior strong safety Jeff Taylor blocked a field goal attempt, senior nose guard Rob Wagner recorded a sack and sophomore linebacker Gerald Nickelberry forced a fumble, while all three received eight tackles apiece. Tony Smith had four solo tackles to go along with a sack, a pass interception and a fumble recovery.

Their points allowed per game average jumps up to 17.0.

Despite a close ballgame, LeShon Johnson continues to blow defenses out of the water rushing for 192 yards on 28 carries. Mystery is in the air because in the two games that junior quarterback Scott Crabtree has started, Johnson has rushed for an average of 190 yards. Is there a connection?

Crabtree is a story in himself as he is now 2-0 as a starter. He is 22-for-56 for 305 yards, three touchdowns and only two interceptions. NIU head coach Charlie Sadler said that he will get the start for this week’s game at Western Michigan.