Northern Illinois will have to make a tough adjustment on the football field. For now, all thoughts are focused on the well-being of assistant coach Mike Dunbar, who is leaving the team to focus on a battle with cancer.
Dunbar was diagnosed with the unspecified cancer shortly after being hired at NIU in February. Doctors proposed a treatment plan that was expected to have positive results by the start of the season, but it didn't work out the way they'd hoped.
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So Dunbar will exit as offensive coordinator, with his play-calling duties taken on by offensive line coach Rod Carey.
"The hope all along, because the doctor said it was a possibility, was that it'd be over with before we started (the season)," NIU coach Dave Doeren said this week. "Once it wasn't, we knew that the season is a grind, and I don't want to be putting Mike in a position where he's working all these hours on football and making his body tired in the process.
"I think all of the focus needed to go toward winning the battle away from here. He, his wife, myself, and his doctors, all agreed that was the best thing."
Dunbar, 63, is a 35-year coaching veteran. He's a former head coach at Northern Iowa and served as offensive coordinator at Northwestern under Randy Walker, also working as coordinator at New Mexico State, Minnesota, California and Toledo.
Dunbar joined the Huskies after last year's coordinator, Matt Canada, left to take the same job at Wisconsin.
Carey, 41, already served as NIU's run-game coordinator, so Doeren felt he was a natural fit. A former offensive lineman at Indiana, Carey is in his second season with the Huskies.
"Coach Carey has been basically in his hip pocket the entire process because there was a lot of days that Mike had to leave to go deal with his situation where Rod was in charge," Doeren said. "The players are very in tune with what's going on.
"We feel very comfortable with who we have running it, and just want Mike to do everything he can now from an energy standpoint to quit worrying about scoring points and finish this thing off the right way, so he can once again be a coach once he's ready."
The Huskies' run game was better than its passing attack in Saturday's 18-17 loss to Iowa at Soldier Field.
Northern Illinois used five players on the offensive line who were making their first collegiate start, but was able to out-rush the Hawkeyes 147-139.
Quarterback Jordan Lynch, also making his first start, led the way with 119 yards on 18 attempts. His 73-yard burst in the third quarter put the Huskies ahead 17-9.
"I think our young offensive line proved that they're going to be tough," coach Dave Doeren said. "They're definitely physical and they play aggressive, which is what I wanted to see."
Huskies sack attack:
After one week, Northern Illinois leads the nation in sacks, picking up 6 against Iowa. Junior defensive end Joe Windsor led the way with 2 sacks, while Sean Progar, Alan Baxter and Sean Evans had 1 each.
"I think that's coverage too," coach Dave Doeren said. "I think we've got pretty good DBs. When you're sacking the quarterback a lot, obviously you're winning up front, but you also have to have time to get there. Those go hand in hand.
"I think our corners and our safeties played a really good football game. We were in places where every catch was contended. There were no freebies in that game."
NIU will put its 15-game home winning streak on the line Saturday when its hosts Tennessee-Martin in DeKalb at 6 p.m. The Skyhawks knocked off Memphis 20-17 last week.