Traditionally over the last couple of seasons, NIU football has been known as an offensive juggernaut, being able to score points seemingly at will.
However, after watching their season opener against Iowa, the Huskies look like they are more of a defensive team than they have been in the past.
“I don’t know if we’re a defensive identity, but we have confidence in our offense too,” said defensive end Alan Baxter. “We definitely knew that we had a lot of returners on defense this year and we were going to be leaned on at the beginning of the season to let the offensive guys get their feet wet a little bit. We stepped up a little bit this game and we’ll learn from the film.”
Against a Big 10 team in the Hawkeyes, NIU only gave up 18 points and didn’t allow a touchdown until the 2:15 mark in the fourth quarter, when running back Damon Bullock broke free on a 23 yard run.
Throughout the game the Huskies continued to come up with big stop after big stop on third down, forcing Iowa to settle for four field goals.
After a Jordan Lynch fumble, the Hawkeyes recovered and started their drive from the NIU 14 yard line. The Huskies stood strong as a unit with their backs against the wall and forced the Hawkeyes to kick a field goal.
With a veteran defensive line, NIU got after quarterback James Vandenberg, putting a lot of pressure on him and disrupting him by taking him down for six total sacks.
Joe Windsor led the team in sacks with two, while Sean Progar, Baxter and Sean Evans all recorded one. Ken Bishop and Victor Jacques also each combined for half a sack.
“We came into the game knowing that we would be able to get after them defensively, especially the defensive line,” Progar said. “We got some good keys on film. We got off and got after the quarterback, but we could have made another play here and there. It’s a hard one to lose, but we played well on defense.”
NIU’s linebackers were all over the field in the game making big tackles. Having Tyrone Clark back at outside linebacker was huge, as he recorded 11 tackles in his first game back since his injury.
The secondary played well, as Jimmie Ward and Rashaan Melvin broke up numerous passes. Ward led the team in tackles with 12 and Dechane Durante added 10.
“We had a tough time,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “We had a tough time protecting at times, and we certainly had a tough time getting open. It just didn’t seem like we were in great sync throughout the game. I give them an awful lot of credit. They had a good game-plan, they mixed the pressure up with coverage, and did a good job. They made it very tough on us.”
The only thing that the Huskies defense was not able to accomplish in this game was forcing a turnover.
“We needed a turnover,” said NIU coach Dave Doeren, “That’s one thing with the defense, we needed to create a takeaway in the second half.”