DeKALB – All week, Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren and his staff preached about the importance of forcing turnovers.
In Week 1 against Iowa, the Huskies’ defense had a strong performance, holding the Hawkeyes to 268 total yards.
After the 18-17 loss, Doeren mentioned the fact his defense didn’t force that big, momentum-changing turnover.
In Saturday’s 35-7 win over Tennessee-Martin, the NIU defense had three big takeaways, two of them fumbles inside the red zone that cost the Skyhawks big scoring chances.
“Every day, the coaches were on us about getting a turnover and making a big play,” said Huskies safety Jimmie Ward, who led NIU with 10 tackles and picked off UT-Martin quarterback Derek Carr.
One of the takeaways came when UT-Martin tried some trickery, with Carr catching a pass from running back Jason McNair.
NIU cornerback Jhony Faustin was able to force a fumble near the goal line, and the ball went in and out of the end zone for an NIU touchback.
Doeren was happy with the way his team was able to keep the Skyhawks off the board by forcing turnovers in the red zone.
“To me, that’s what it’s all about. If you can keep touchdowns off the board. We need more takeaways, that’s the one thing that we’ll continue to harp on, obviously,” he said. “That says a lot about your mental toughness I think as a team, if you score touchdowns on offense, stop touchdowns on defense in the red zone. It says a lot about your makeup.”
UT-Martin was able to move the ball against NIU’s defense at times, and Doeren thought the defensive line, which had six sacks against Iowa, could have gotten to Carr more.
The guy who did the most damage against the Huskies was 6-2, 202-pound receiver Quentin Sims, a transfer from Georgia Tech. He made some nice catches and had more than 100-yards receiving in the first half.
At halftime, NIU made adjustments, playing more help coverage instead of loading up to stop the run. The defense did a better job of holding Sims in check, as he finished with 152 receiving yards after the strong first half.
“We made some good adjustments and we executed and we finished the game,” Doeren said.
NIU’s defense came to play Saturday, just as it did in the season opener. But beating up on an FCS team is one thing. Taking on Army’s triple option attack Saturday will be a much better test.