TORONTO – Coming off of Northern Illinois' loss to Central Michigan to close the regular season, defensive coordinator Tracy Clayes was not exactly feeling great about his performance that day.
The Huskies gave up 45 points in a loss in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., and it felt like more.
For the first half, at least, in an eventual 27-3 loss to South Florida on Saturday in the International Bowl, the NIU defense played exceptionally well in giving up three points by halftime. The Huskies had shut down USF quarterback B.J. Daniels and pressured him into making poor decisions and poor throws.
"I was embarrassed after the Central game," Claeys said. "I didn't feel like defensively we gave our team a chance to win the ballgame. So I was embarrassed. At least today we competed on defense. We gave ourselves a chance to win the ballgame."
By the end of the first half, the Huskies' defense had forced four punts, held USF to minus-3 rushing yards and the Bulls had only converted 1 of 6 third downs.
It was an inspired effort that included four sacks, with Tyrone Clark's 20-yard sack of Daniels standing out as a huge play for the Huskies' defense.
"We tackled well in the first half," Claeys said.
After that, though, it was all Bulls against a tired NIU defense.
Freshman defensive end Alan Baxter said South Florida made some adjustments after the Huskies took away so much from the USF offense in the first half.
"I think they went away a little bit from what they wanted to do," Baxter said. "All season they've just been giving their quarterback the ball. Then they started doing some other things."
And with fatigue and a different offense to try toattack, the smooth plays of the first half turned into struggles and missed assignments.
"We missed a few tackles," Claeys said. "There's a handful of plays in there, but I think we played pretty good, except for missing those tackles. Our kids played hard."
Still, it left players on both sides of the ball for NIU feeling good about the defense, especially Claeys.
"I don't like the outcome," Claeys said, "but I can sure as heck live with the effort compared to what happened at Central."