DeKALB – Through its first three games against Football Bowl Subdivision teams, Northern Illinois didn’t force a single turnover.
The defense had chances, but the forced fumbles were recovered by the opposition, and NIU dropped interceptions when it had a chance to make a big play and change field position.
The Huskies got three turnovers against Tennessee-Martin in Week 2, but weren’t able to get a takeaway against an FBS team until a Week 5 win over Central Michigan. That day, NIU forced two of them. The defense recovered a fumble and picked off Chippewas quarterback Ryan Radcliff.
From the Central Michigan win through last week’s victory at Western Michigan, NIU has forced 12 turnovers.
“It’s how we do it in practice. We practice taking the ball away and we always talk about taking the ball away,” defensive end Joe Windsor said. “We just work at it.”
To NIU coach Dave Doeren, some of it is just the ball bouncing his team’s way, which didn’t happen at the start of the season.
“Early in the year we dropped like seven interceptions,” Doeren said. “They were bouncing off our facemask and our hands. We had two or three fumbles where we knocked the ball out and it would go right out of bounds or it would bounce right back into the guy’s hands that dropped it. Those things happen. You turn on Toledo, watching them, flipping it around, they’ve had like four, five balls thrown right to them like they were invisible.
“That just happens for you sometimes. Sometimes the ball goes right to you and sometimes it doesn’t. We’ve just got to keep playing. You play hard and you get around the ball, pretty soon you get some in your lap.”
With three regular season games to go, the Huskies are now fifth in the MAC in turnover margin at +4.
To no surprise, the other teams at the top of the list are all competing for a conference title — Kent State (+19), Ohio (+16), Toledo (+7) and Bowling Green (+6).
NIU’s ability to force turnovers is one reason for the solid plus-turnover margin. The offense has done its share as well. A lot of the credit goes to quarterback Jordan Lynch, who hasn’t thrown an interception since the Huskies’ win over Kansas on Sept. 22.
“He’s making better choices,” Doeren said. “Instead of throwing into tight coverage, he scrambles for a first down. He’ll throw it away in the red zone, or he’ll scramble and run a guy over on the goal line. He’s playing smart.”