Takeaways key to NIU defense’s success

DeKALB – For Northern Illinois’ defense, the yards allowed and scoring totals aren’t impressive.

The Huskies’ average of 479.4 yards allowed ranks 113th in the nation, and their 29.8 points allowed is good for 83rd in the country.

However, those stats don’t tell the entire story. All season long, NIU has kept taking the ball away from the other team.

In Saturday’s 38-24 win over Kent State, NIU safety Jimmie Ward picked off Golden Flashes quarterback Colin Reardon in the red zone – on a pass intended for Dri Archer – and also recovered a fumble which was forced by true freshman Jamaal Payton.

Ward leads the MAC with four interceptions. The other Huskies’ starting safety, Dechane Durante, has three.

Takeaways have been a theme all season. To Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey, it’s all about being in the right place, and then executing on top of it.

“Our guys are in more positions to make those plays, and I think that’s why they’re getting more,” Carey said during Tuesday’s news conference at the Yordon Center. “You can be in position and still not make the play and still not get the turnover. If you’re in that position more often than not, you’re going to get the turnover.”

And the members of NIU’s defense have been in the right position this season. The 15 turnovers the Huskies have forced rank sixth in the nation and second in the Mid-American Conference (Ball State has forced 16).

Four of the five teams ahead of NIU – Tulane (18 turnovers), Middle Tennessee (17), Ball State, Virginia Tech (16) and Miami (Fla.) (16) – have played six games compared with five for the Huskies, who have had a bye week.

NIU’s average turnover margin of 1.2 is tied for 12th in the country.

“I just think (it’s) a lot of flying around to the ball,” said defensive end Jason Meehan, who has a fumble recovery to his name this season. “A lot of it is being physical and making the right plays at the right time.”

Carey said the team talks about turnovers all the time. The Huskies, who have recovered six fumbles, work on stripping the ball in practice. Players will use the strategy of the first man getting to the ball carrier and holding him up, and the second guy in getting the ball out, though it can be easier said than done.

“We try to do that as much as possible,” Meehan said. “But during the game, it’s not always the first thing on your mind.”