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NIU’s defensive line isn’t worried about Florida State’s size advantage

FloridState’s offensive line outweighs NIU’s defensive line by an average 55 pounds per man. | Phil Sears~AP

Florida State’s offensive line outweighs NIU’s defensive line by an average of 55 pounds per man. | Phil Sears~AP

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Updated: January 20, 2013 6:27AM

When told Florida State’s starting offensive line outweighs Northern Illinois’ front four by an average of 55 pounds per man, senior defensive end Sean Progar didn’t blink.

His facial expression and body language said it all: Who cares?

“We’ve played big guys,” Progar said. “It’s nothing new. I’ve played a lot of big schools since I’ve been here, so I know what it takes to get it done. We’re really stressing pad level, execution and fundamentals. If we do our job like we’ve done all season, we’ll be fine.”

The biggest difference between a so-called mid-major program and a traditional power such as Florida State is often most visible along the defensive line. Smaller programs often have trouble landing athletes with the beef and quickness to control the line of scrimmage.

Anybody expecting the Huskies to be intimidated by the Seminoles when the teams meet in the Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium in Miami on New Year’s Day better think again, however.

When the subject of Florida State’s alleged size advantage is raised, NIU coaches and players answer in unison: Bring it on.

“I’m sure we’ll be just fine doing what we do,” defensive tackle Nabal Jefferson said. “We don’t need to change anything up or do anything drastic. We just need to play like we’ve played this whole season. That’s all we have to do.”

Progar has played in 54 games and started 48, ranking among the most productive players in Huskies history. He was a first-team All-MAC selection with 8½ of NIU’s 36 sacks, the ninth-highest team total in the nation.

He has added motivation to excel in the Orange Bowl after being charged with driving under the influence after last year’s MAC championship game. His subsequent suspension forced him to watch his teammates participate in the Bowl.

“It was my fault, my bad decision,” said Progar, a former Glenbrook South standout. “I felt like I let my team down. They were able to get the job done, not only as a team but as a D-line. They played very well in that game.”

Progar was encouraged to help coach his teammates as they prepared for last season’s bowl game. Jefferson, the Marist grad who was one of 15 winners of the National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete Award, said that started a tradition that has defensive linemen coaching each other today.

“It really helped [Progar],” co-defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen said. “He got to see the other side of football, which is coaching. He really turned it into a positive and coached the guys in that game. That really set him up for this year. He made a mistake, and he has owned up to it. He has gotten better from it, and that’s the most important thing.”

NIU’s defense held Iowa to 268 yards and sacked Hawkeyes quarterback James Vandenberg six times in the Huskies’ only loss this season. They had four sacks against Kansas.

Nielsen won’t try to confuse Florida State. He won’t rely on his linemen shooting gaps, and he won’t use a deeper rotation to offset the Seminoles’ size, either.

You can’t even convince the Huskies that it’s an advantage.

“They are definitely big, strong guys,” Progar said. “They do basic stuff. They are a lot like Iowa in the way they zone-block and run power and zone. They really only run a few plays. It’s going to come down to being more physical than them. Obviously, we’re outweighed. We’ll be physical in the beginning, then we’ll start using our quickness to start moving them.”

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