What You Need To Know About The Northern Illinois Defense
– Six starters are back to one of the best NIU defenses in a long, long time. The Huskies led the MAC in total and scoring D, allowing 339 yards and 22 points per game, mostly because of the devastating pass rush. They led the nation in tackles for loss and was second behind Miami in sacks, and now most of the stars are back.
Sutton Smith turned into one of college football’s breakout superstars – with 14 or the team’s 43 sacks – for a defense that got sacks out of 15 players and 114 tackles for loss out of 25 Huskies.
There should be another great rotation on the ends, and the tackle situation is strong with Ben LeRoy and Jack Heflin on the inside. LeRoy is the playmaker in the backfield, and the 298-pound Heflin is more of an anchor.
– The linebacking corps suffered two massive hits. Leading tackler Bobby Jones IV is done, and second-leading tackler and dangerous pass rusher Jawuan Johnson left to be a TCU Horned Frog. Throw in the graduation of Alex Schwab from the middle, and this is the team’s biggest early problem area. The 5-10, 218-pound Antonio Jones-Davis needs to become a factor now in the middle as part of the overhaul.
– Shawun Lurry is finally done from the secondary, but it’s a decent group returning, starting with the corner tandem of Jalen Embry and Albert Smalls – now they have to pick off a pass after not doing that last season.
Mykelti Williams is the team’s leading returning tackler with 73 stops at one safety spot, and Trayshon Foster should be ready to take over the other job after coming up with 23 tackles as a part of the rotation.
Biggest Key To The Northern Illinois Defense
Keep up the pressure. Under new defensive coordinator Jeff Knowles – who gets moved up after handling the linebackers – the big plays have to continue. The 2016 Huskies weren’t and at getting behind the line with 73 tackles for loss, but that was nothing compared to the 114 the 2017 D generated. The rise of Sutton Smith was just a part of it – the entire defense got into the act. And now it all has to keep going.