When junior safety Jimmie Ward was ejected in the second quarter for his hit – and subsequent trash-talking – on Buffalo WR Alex Neutz, the NIU defense more than picked up the slack.
“Jimmie went out as a leader of the defense,” freshman defensive back Marlon Moore said. “We put him on our backs since he got ejected out of the game.”
The Huskies defense seemed energized by Ward’s hit. Without the Huskies’ leading tackler, NIU still forced three turnovers in a second-half shutout. The three points allowed in NIU’s 45-3 win were a season-low for the Huskies, who didn’t allow a touchdown for the first time all season.
Most impressive regarding NIU’s three turnovers was the timeliness of those plays. Coming into Saturday’s contest, Buffalo was 13 for 13 in red zone scoring, but all three Bulls turnovers occurred inside the NIU 20-yard line.
“We held them to 25 percent in the red zone so what does that say about our defense?” Doeren said. “They are mentally tough, they make plays. We forced three turnovers in the red zone. It’s points off the board, it’s momentum.”
Moore, who was making the first start of his career, picked off Zordich twice for his first career interceptions.
The defensive line also had one of its most productive games of the season. After not recording a sack in the previous two games, NIU had four against Buffalo.
Joe Windsor, Sean Progar, Ken Bishop, Nabal Jefferson and Alan Baxter all got to the quarterback, a product of NIU’s depth on the defensive side of the ball. On the season, eight different Huskies have recorded sacks.
Opposing coaches have said NIU’s ability to rotate players has allowed them to finish fourth quarters and playing with a 42-point lead, NIU’s defensive reserves still refused to yield.
“You talk about finish, our third-string defense forced a fumble at the goal line. That was awesome,” Doeren said. “Really excited about that.”
It’s safe to say Ward was as well.