DeKALB – Aggressive, athletic, confident.
Those were just three of the words Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz used to describe Northern Illinois’ defense after the Hawkeyes’ 18-17 win over the Huskies at Soldier Field.
“Those guys, they’re athletic, they move,” Ferentz said. “They’re aggressive and tough too. It wasn’t like it was easy [moving the ball], that’s for sure.”
NIU’s group bent at times, finally breaking on Damon Bullock’s 23-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that gave the Hawkeyes the lead.
All day, NIU pressured Hawkeyes quarterback James Vandenberg, sacking him six times, with two of them coming from defensive end Joe Windsor.
When Vandenberg was able to get a pass off, someone like Rashaan Melvin or Jimmie Ward was getting in the way of a receiver.
“We had a tough time. We had a tough time protecting at times, and we certainly had a tough time getting open,” Ferentz said. “It just didn’t seem like we were in great sync throughout the game. I give them an awful lot of credit.”
Sure, NIU fans might not have liked what they saw from the Huskies offense. But the defense came to play against a Big Ten team.
A lot is expected from the group in 2012, with all the talent that’s returning. Not to mention Tyrone Clark, who was suspended last season, is now back in the fold. Clark was everywhere Saturday, finishing with 11 tackles, one of them coming for a loss.
Defensive end Sean Progar declined to call the Huskies a defensive team.
He also realizes its a group that is going to be counted on this season.
“I don’t know if we’re a defensive identity, but we have confidence in our offense, too. 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,” Progar said. “We stepped up a little bit this game and we’ll learn from the film.”
NIU held one of the better quarterbacks in the Big Ten, James Vandenberg, to just 129 yards. The Hawkeyes had only 268 total yards. If there’s one negative from the game, its the fact NIU didn’t force that big turnover.
If Saturday is any indication at all, opposing Mid-American Conference teams might have a tough time moving the ball at Huskie Stadium this season.
“I think we are taking the right steps. We didn’t get the win, but tomorrow we are going to come in and we’re going to make all of the corrections,” defensive end Alan Baxter said. “That’s the thing: We take it one day at a time. It’s not that we are just going to be good today, but we are going to keep improving throughout the entire season.”