DeKALB – He may be the best player Northern Illinois defends this season, and the Huskies already have seen Wisconsin quarterback and Heisman trophy candidate Russell Wilson.
“Good route runner, catches the ball in his hands, gets vertical after the catch,” NIU coach Dave Doeren said, running through a list of attributes that makes Western Michigan senior Jordan White statistically the nation’s best receiver.
Then Doeren discussed the area his team can control.
“A lot of his catches are uncontested, surprisingly enough,” Doeren said. “As good as he is, there are a lot of plays where he’s just sitting in zones by himself. That’s something we can’t let happen.”
That’s NIU’s biggest challenge when it hosts Western Michigan at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on homecoming at Huskie Stadium. The Huskies must figure out the best way to cover White, then execute it on the field. It won’t be easy.
White’s 67 receptions lead college football, as do his 824 receiving yards. His seven touchdown catches are one behind the nation’s leaders.
“They run their whole offense through that guy,” junior strong safety Tommy Davis said. “He’s going to get his catches, because they’re always looking to him.”
But Doeren said the game plan isn’t as easy as double or triple covering White on every snap. Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder has other options, as well.
Robert Arnheim and Chleb Ravenell have combined for 49 catches, 575 yards and five touchdowns through six games. Collectively, they don’t approach White’s production, but they do enough to garner a secondary’s respect.
“I think we need to know where he is at all times, but you can’t just double cover a guy the entire game,” Doeren said. “You’ve got to defend some other things. But when we are single covering him, knowing where he is, so linebackers being underneath and safeties knowing where he’s at as far as where the help is in coverage. You just can’t be blind to the other two guys.
“Their offense is fit for spreading it around if you take one guy away.”
Part of White’s success is schematics. In Western Michigan’s offense, White lines up all around the field, even the slot.
“Lining up in the slot, he creates mismatch problems for a lot of guys,” Davis said. “Safeties aren’t used to guarding receivers like that.”
Davis saw plenty of White during NIU’s 28-21 win against Western Michigan last season, the Huskies’ closest call during an undefeated stretch in the MAC. White torched NIU’s secondary with 14 catches for 180 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown.
Davis said he’s learn from last season’s matchup. He’ll get another chance Saturday.
“You’ve got to get up on him and get in his head early and often,” Davis said. “That’s the thing, you can’t really let him or the quarterback get into a rhythm. Once guys like that get into a rhythm with their quarterback, they’ll eat you up all night. You can’t let him beat you over the top.
“If he catches the ball – he’s going to catch it – you’ve got to come up and tackle him. You can’t miss a tackle. You can’t let him get a big play, because he’s going to build off that momentum, and that’s going to accelerate his play as the game goes on.”