The Northern Illinois defense is a bit tricky to evaluate at this point due to the fact that their numbers are significantly skewed due to their game against Army. Last week Army put up 486 yards on the ground and just 8 through the air. That's a huge disparity and primarily due to the Army offensive gameplan. So how do accurately evaluate them? Do you take the Iowa game? They were certainly serviceable in that one so perhaps that's the best judge heading into this one.
S 15 Jimmie Ward (5-11, 192, Jr.)
Ward is probably the player that could most likely be called the leader of the NIU defensive unit. He is considered a likely All MAC level player and he leads the team in tackles to date. Normally that could be viewed as a negative because it might mean that the opposing offense is getting into the secondary on a far to regular basis. That could still be the case, but given his reputation, talent has a lot to do with it.
DE 90 Alan Baxter (6-0, 240, Sr.)
DT 93 Ken Bishop (6-1, 308, Jr.)
DT 99 Nabal Jefferson (6-0, 287, Sr.)
DE 95 Sean Progar (6-2, 254, Sr.-R)
This unit is almost the opposite of the offensive line, they have experience. All four of these have playing experience, three of these are returning as starters. Progar is the best pass rusher out of the group, but the Kansas offensive line did an excellent job last week against a better end so that should be a manageable matchup. The real test here will be whether or not the Kansas offensive line can create a push and give the Kansas running game a boost with the return of James Sims. I don't expect Kansas to 'go Army' on NIU, but one would hope they can establish themselves up front if Army was able to do so. That said, Army is a different animal in terms of preparation so NIU should have an easier time addressing the Kansas running game.
OLB 6 Jamaal Bass (5-10, 225, So.-R)
MLB 40 Victor Jacques (5-11, 228, Sr.-R)
52 Michael Santacaterina (5-10, 210, So.-R)
OLB 36 Tyrone Clark (5-10, 219, Sr.)
Clark is the leader of this group and sits just behind Ward in tackles for the team. In fact Clark probably plays just as large a role in terms of leadership for the defensive group and he is someone who can cover the field as well as create issues in the backfield. Interestingly Clark was out last season so Bass is the only returning starter and Jacques won the mike job during fall camp. Jacques will split time with Santacaterina as well so look for both players to be involved.
CB 11 Rashaan Melvin (6-2, 193, Sr.-R)
S 21 Dechane Durante (6-2, 196, So.-R)
CB 19 Demetrius Stone (5-10, 203, Sr.)
This is a strong group for NIU and obviously you add Ward to this group. Melvin is equally effective as Ward and he has great size at the corner. Stone and Durante aren't quite at the same level, but the difference is marginal. All in all this is a good group and they will challenge the Kansas passing game which has struggled. The Jayhawk receivers need to find a way to get open and stretch the field if possible. It's something that looked improved last week, but it still has a long way to go.