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updated: 10/20/2011 5:42 PM

NIU's defense starting to assert itself

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  • Northern Illinois lineback Pat Schiller of Geneva is the leading tackler for the Huskies, and one of the key factors in the improved play of the NIU defense the last two weeks.

    Northern Illinois lineback Pat Schiller of Geneva is the leading tackler for the Huskies, and one of the key factors in the improved play of the NIU defense the last two weeks.
    Photo courtesy of NIU Athletics


Northern Illinois started the season with high expectations, but first-year coach Dave Doeren quickly discovered a serious flaw.

"I just don't know many teams that have won a championship giving up 40 points a game," he said this week.

That's exactly where the Huskies were after five games. Giving up 49 points to Wisconsin is forgivable. Letting Central Michigan score 48 and Kansas ring up 45, that's definitely a problem.

So Doeren and the coaching staff made a few changes and the Huskies allowed just 16 points per game in back-to-back wins over Kent State and Western Michigan.

Western Michigan headed to Huskie Stadium last week with the best passing attack in the MAC. NIU didn't shut down star receiver Jordan White, but kept him to an average of 8.2 yards on 12 catches. The Huskies have also piled up 12 quarterback sacks in the last two games.

"One of the things that I've talked to the defensive players about, the ones that have played a lot, is having a motto of 'Not on my watch,'" Doeren said. "When you can impact the game where the play is yours to make, you have to do that.

"You're not the young guy that's just trying to do his job and is nervous about everything. You're the old guy that's done his job a thousand times and now you need to make big plays for us when they're there."

Doeren singled out junior defensive end Sean Progar (Glenbrook South), who ranks first on the team with 4.5 sacks, and senior linebacker Pat Schiller (Geneva), the Huskies' leading tackler, for rising to the occasion.

Another former Geneva linebacker, redshirt freshman Michael Santacaterina, joined the mix the last two games, recording an interception and forced fumble. Junior defensive end Alan Baxter (Buffalo Grove) had 2 tackles for loss against WMU.

"Everybody's clicking," said safety Demetrius Stone. "It starts with the defensive line. They get a lot of pressure. Then, going to the linebackers and DBs, everyone's just doing their job.

"It just shows what our defense is really capable of. We had a rough beginning of the season, but the last two games we have set the tone where we actually can compete."

Multiple options:

Chandler Harnish delivered the kind of performance dual-threat quarterbacks dream of against Western Michigan, with 229 yards rushing and 203 yards passing. He's the 10th player in NCAA FBS history to record a 200-200 game, according to NIU sports information.

Northern Illinois' option offense worked so well last Saturday, backup quarterback Jordan Lynch ran for 113 yards on 10 carries. That's also a credit to the Huskies' offensive line, which starts four fifth-year seniors -- Trevor Olson, Scott Wedige, Joe Pawlak (Grayslake) and Keith Otis.

Coach Dave Doeren contends Lynch, a sophomore from Mount Carmel, might be a bit faster than Harnish.

"Whenever (offensive coordinator) Matt Canada sees that Chandler's tired, he pulls him out and lets him catch his breath," Doeren said. "Any time your quarterback is carrying the ball like that, you're nervous, but it's what we do and Chandler likes it."

Ready to soar:

One reason the Huskies are looking forward to playing at Buffalo on Saturday is it's a rare plane trip. NIU usually travels by bus to MAC road games, such as the Oct. 1 trek to Mount Pleasant, Mich.

"I think the grind on the kids is a little better, particularly on the way back," coach Dave Doeren said. "We're going to get home at 8:30 at night, which, normally on a bus, you're rolling in here at two or three in the morning. So that's a huge difference, I think, when you're talking about just the mental fatigue "

After Saturday's game in Buffalo, the Huskies will play their next three games on Tuesday nights.

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