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Adjustments start early for improving Huskies defense

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
safety Jimmie Ward jumps up with teammate Sean Evans in celebration of Ward’s interception during the fourth quarter against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. Ward has six interceptions on the season.

DeKALB – When people talk about Northern Illinois, Jordan Lynch is the first thing that comes to mind.

Deservedly so, but the Huskies’ defense probably deserves some share of the credit as well. It’s a unit which now ranks 39th in the country, giving up 23.6 points a game.

NIU certainly wouldn’t be where it is without No. 6 under center, but the defense has done its part.

“You look at our defenses, they’ve been good every year [defensive coordinator Jay Niemann]’s been here,” NIU coach Rod Carey said Tuesday. “First year (2011) we started out rough, look at how it ended up that first year, really good. And last year, we had all those guys back, they had the numbers and stats that make everyone think they’re really good, I think they’re really good again.”

Niemann’s group had some rough games early on. Iowa recorded 458 total yards Week 1. Idaho dropped 35 points on the Huskies in the second game, and Eastern Illinois had a 39-point effort in their third game.

However, things have improved. And in the second half, the Huskies have risen to a new level. Opposing offenses average only 8.25 points a game after halftime. On Nov. 13, NIU held Keith Wenning and Ball State’s high-powered offense to only three points in the second half.

A week later, Toledo scored only seven second-half points.

Even during the Huskies’ early-season struggles, the defense clamped down after halftime. The Hawkeyes scored three second-half points, the Vandals seven.

Only Purdue, Eastern Illinois and Eastern Michigan have scored double-digit points in the second half this season and no team has outscored the Huskies after halftime. That has resulted in a plus-148 point differential in the second half.

When asked about his team’s second-half success, Niemann gave credit to making sideline adjustments.

Things like changing a coverage that his team’s making a check to, formations the defense is seeing and how the defensive linemen are positioned.

They’ve certainly worked.

“I think a lot’s said about halftime adjustments, but truth of the matter is most of those adjustments are beginning to take place somewhere in the second quarter and you can finalize all those thoughts, get them permanent,” Niemann said. “Sometimes you get caught on a three-and-out on offense and something happens in the flow of the game where you don’t have time to make all the adjustments you’d like to in the second quarter.

“We’ve started most of those things, the process is underway, and at the half we just finalize it. The kids have done a great job of understanding what we’re trying to do and taking those adjustments to the game in the third quarter.”

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