MIAMI SHORES, Fla. – To Northern Illinois safety Demetrius Stone, the Huskies’ secondary has been playing as good as it can be lately.
“We’re playing real well. We’ve got depth,” Stone said after Thursday’s practice at Barry University in preparation for Tuesday night’s Orange Bowl against Florida State at Sun Life Stadium in Miami. “Guys are out there making plays. We’ve been playing well all season.”
However, the rest of the Mid-American Conference doesn’t compare to a team such as Florida State, with athletes like quarterback E.J. Manuel and a receiving corps with five players who have more than 20 catches on the season. Rashad Greene leads the unit with 52 catches for 696 yards and five touchdowns.
“They have some tall wide receivers that they can get the ball to, so they wlll throw the jump ball,” NIU cornerbacks coach Richard McNutt said. “They’ve got some speedy guys and quick guys that they’ll try to get the ball to in space.”
So far, the Huskies’ secondary has held its own during the team’s first 13 games of the season. NIU ranks 40th in the country when it comes to passing defense (217.69 yards a game), but is 14th in passing efficiency defense (105.91).
At the center of the defense is senior cornerback Rashaan Melvin, who only has one interception but led the MAC with 17 pass break-ups, even though he missed two games because of an injury.
“He’s definitely the leader for us in the secondary. He understands the game,” McNutt said. “He provides a lot of experience and he will go out there and make plays. He’s a guy with good size and the tools to go out there and compete against this team.”
Stone also has been a key player in the Huskies’ defensive backfield. He started the first eight games at cornerback, then moved to safety when Dechane Durante was injured. Durante is back, but Stone still is the starter, and he’s played well.
The senior, who will be playing close to home having grown up in Miami, is third on the team with 73 tackles, and has two interceptions, five pass break-ups and two fumble recoveries.
Stone is naturally a safety, so the position change wasn’t too difficult.
“It wasn’t much of a change, it was more of a change when I went to corner,” he said.
Stone said if NIU’s secondary can play the way it has when the Huskies take the field Tuesday night at Sun Life Stadium, the group will be fine.
“We just have to play our game. We don’t have to come out here and do anything special that we haven’t done before,” he said. “We’ve been flying around, making plays. We’ve just got to stick with our technique, play fundamentally sound like we have all year.”