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NIU-BGSU Preview Counterpoint: No, The Defense Can Do This

Last Tuesday's game between NIU and Toledo remains a bizarre memory. 123 total points in just 60 minutes put us on a tilt-a-whirl so violent, we ended up with records and near-records, most of them falling on the side of Northern Illinois. But at the same time, they did give up 60 points in a game. A week later we can return to the season-long question: what the sam hill is happening to Dave Doeren's defense, ranked 109th in points allowed?

But they've been able to weather it. They score more than they allow. Oversimplified football strategy. But the more I look at the Falcons team, I'm convinced that they can, and will win, based on their defense. For whatever reason. Dave Clawson's an offensive-minded coach, but this team is making stops and keeping the score surprisingly low.

BG is averaging 21.4 points per MAC match, actually topping 21 points just once (Miami) and have only a 2-3 record to show for it. Knowing their opponent has given up over 700 yards and eight passing touchdowns in the last two games, it's time for Matt Schilz and his receivers to put up more scoring. In their last five games, the Falcons have totaled exactly one passing touchdown and little more than that. Oh, but the turnovers. They've had those!

I'm mostly worried about those red zone trips turning into nothing substantive: in four red zone tries BG mustered just two field goals against Kent State. Knowing that NIU is going to be sans safety Jamaal Bass (for pulling a Yoko and breaking up the band, causing a one-game suspension), the secondary is additionally stretched thin. I think they can continue this fashion trend of going above 30 points on the Huskies.

But again, this is going to be on the anointed 4-2-5 defense slowing down Chandler Harnish, Jasmin Hopkins, and all those receivers. They weren't able to stop Alex Carder or Geno Smith but they did limit the damage done by Austin Dantin and Terrance Owens against Toledo.

The keys will be first and second down. If they can force an incompletion or hold them to a short gain ... look at this Falcons third down defense all season:


(From the BG-NIU Game Notes)

Well, damn. There's the game right there. I've been impressed with how the secondary has played when they need a stop. BooBoo Gates, Cameron Truss, Aaron Foster, Ryland Ward and DeVon McKoy are your gatekeepers to the official first down line. For a collective of nothin' but freshmen and sophomores, that's pretty good.

Knowing it's a young defense means that they'll need exemplary games from D-lineman Chris Jones and linebacker Dwayne Woods. And I think they can slow down Harnish and Hopkins. There's no other choice. In all if they can keep them to within 30 points, I think they got this.

As for the special teams, I don't think you kick away from Tommylee Lewis. He had two great runbacks for 12 points but when Toledo pooched it away from him for three more quarters, that gave some really generous field position to NIU all night. Of course, if they do kick it out of bounds, that may not necessarily be by design — they've done that six times, most in FBS. But on the kickoff return defense, they're actually pretty sound: just 21 yards per return with no touchdowns allowed. And I'd venture that Gates is actually the most dangerous return man in the game; he's had two returns of 70+ yards, one of them going for a touchdown, and had another kickoff return TD last year. His 28.63 return average is 17th in the country. Who should kick away from whom?

8 p.m. ESPN2. We won't have 123 points, but even half that will make for an entertaining brouhaha at the Doyt.