Falcons need unsung heroes

Leading into this weekend’s game with Northern Illinois, all the talk has been about Huskie running back Michael Turner and Falcon quarterback Josh Harris. They have been two of the premier players in the conference and garnered national attention for their play.

However, this weekend their play will rely heavily on the play around them and their offenses and defenses, which will help to open up opportunities or take them away.

First of all, the play of Harris will rely a lot on the ability of his receivers and backs to make plays. Players like receivers Cole Magner, Charles Sharon, James Hawkins, and the rest of the receiving core will be called upon to make plays against a very talented Huskie secondary that ranks top of the MAC in Pass Efficiency defense as well as interceptions.

P.J. Pope and B.J. Lane are a key in opening up the passing game with their running. They will have to face though a tough defensive front that the Huskies will bring that ranks third in the conference in rush defense, allowing 126 yards a game.

The Huskie defense features last week’s MAC West defensive player of the week, linebacker Brian Atkinson, defensive end Vinson Reynolds, strong safety Akil Grant, free safety Lionel Hickenbottom and corners Rob Lee and Randee Drew. Atkinson has 57 tackles along with four sacks, while Reynolds has 48 tackles and five sacks to make up a talented defensive front that is third in the league in sacks. Grant leads the team in tackles with 78, while Hickenbottom has 58 to pick up the slack for the guys up front. Then Lee and Carter both lead the team in interceptions with three each to make for a tough secondary that only allows 209 passing yards a game.

Turner’s big play abilities will be effective with big plays around him as well. Huskie quarterback Josh Haldi is seventh in the conference in total offense and has passed for With 1,567 yards and 14 touchdowns so far this season. His big play receiver is P.J. Fleck, who has 57 catches for 621 yards and four touchdowns.

The task of stopping this Huskie offense will be tough, but the Falcon defense is one of top defenses in the league and ranks second in total defense only allowing only 316 yards a game along with sacks at 21. They also rank top of the league in points against only giving up 15 points a game.

Keon Newson is the team leader in tackles followed by Jason Morton and Mitch Hewitt. Janssen Patton leads the team and MAC with four interceptions on the year. The guys up front like Mitchell Crossley, Matt Leininger, Devon Parks, Monty Cooley, Will Teague, and Mike Thaler make up a solid defensive line that will be key to closing holes for Turner to run through.

Linebackers Hewitt, Ted Piepkow, Daniel Sayles, Jeff Runnels and Jovon Burkes will have to be there to plug the holes when they open.

Northern has had a tough time keeping pressure off of Haldi, having allowed 18 sacks on the season. The NIU offensive line is vulnerable and that the Falcon defense, which ranks third in passing defense can create problems for the Huskie passing game.

The key will be stopping the Northern passing game and making Turner beat them on the ground, which the Falcons have had trouble doing in the past. BG has had their struggles against the run this season at times, but have been strong as well.

When it comes to special teams, Dan Sheldon along with P.J. Fleck are always dangerous on punt returns for the Huskies. Then record-breaking kicker Steve Azar is excellent at kicking field goals. BG counters with Shaun Suisham, who has also made some crucial kicks this season.

Then obviously the key to both teams offensively will be the guys up front on the offensive line. The BG offensive line will be key in opening holes for the run game, as well as keeping pressure off Harris. Northern will counter, trying to open up gaps for Turner to run through and give Haldi opportunities to make plays too.

In all, you can look at Harris and Turner as the big reasons behind either of these teams winning on Saturday.

However, it will be those unsung heroes that will make the difference and decide who comes out on top.