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Take 2: Was Idaho game a wake-up call for NIU?

Published: Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Daily Chronicle sports editor Ross Jacobson and sports reporter Steve Nitz spend their days covering the area’s sports scene. Occasionally, they give their viewpoints on those local sports. In this installment of their Take 2 column, they discuss Northern Illinois' victory over Idaho last week.

Jacobson: A 45-35 win in which NIU was tied in the fourth quarter is not exactly what people expected on the Huskies' trip to Idaho. The Huskies committed 11 penalties, lost two fumbles and gave up 35 points to an offense that struggled mightily through the first two weeks. 

Do you think last week's performance will be more of a wake-up call for NIU or a sign of potential struggles to come?

Nitz: I think fans have to be at least somewhat concerned by the defense's performance. Idaho is a bad team, and for a while the Vandals did what they wanted. At the same time, Idaho had a great game plan, using a hurry-up offense for the first time this season, and NIU did a great job of adjusting on defense in the second half.

When it comes to the defense, I've said the Huskies would have a tough time replacing Rashaan Melvin, Alan Baxter and Sean Progar, but thought the unit has potential. My opinion hasn't changed.

To answer your question, I think it's a little of both. I'd say the game could be considered a wake-up call, and at the same time, the amount of points NIU gave up and the penalties should be concerning.

Jacobson: Looking back at last year, NIU traveled to Army in Week 3 and gave up 40 points. It's not unusual for the Huskies to have some early season struggles. This unit still is learning and it's easy to forget that this was only the second game of the season. 

One of the encouraging things for the defense is that it has forced three turnovers in each of the first two games. Last year's team was very good, averaging almost two takeaways a game. This unit has a chance to be better and that can make up for a lot of things, including inexperience. 

Nitz: Agreed on that front. If NIU keeps winning the turnover battle, there will be a lot of good things to talk about in Huskieland. Another thing I've liked from NIU is how the Huskies have made adjustments and been better in the second half. Against Idaho, it looked like there was a completely different unit out there after halftime.

There are some encouraging signs for the NIU defense. But if the Huskies are going to win a MAC title, there needs to be improvements.

Jacobson: There has been so much turnover in the staff since Dave Doeren left for N.C. State that the retention of Jay Niemann as defensive coordinator has gone largely unnoticed.

He has a track record of making solid adjustments as time goes on. Fans have to remember the 2011 Mid-American Conference title game when NIU shut out Ohio in the second half to roar back for a 23-20 win. Once Niemann gets a feel for the players he has, the defense should be fine.

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