Created:Saturday, October 16, 2010 9:47 p.m.CST
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VIEWS: Stingy defense still Huskies' identity

By JEREMY WERNER - jwerner@daily-chronicle.com
Northern Illinois cornerback Chris Smith returns an interception during the second quarter of the Huskies' 45-14 homecoming win over Buffalo on Saturday at Huskie Stadium. (Rob Winner – rwinner@daily-chronicle.com)

DeKALB – With Chandler Harnish and Chad Spann playing like the best quarterback-running back duo in the Mid-American Conference, the Northern Illinois defense hasn't received much ink in the press lately.

And the NIU defenders are completely fine with that.

But, while an NIU offense that had been on cruise control the previous three weeks finally hit a pothole early on against Buffalo on Saturday, it was the Huskies' defense that kept NIU from not falling behind the Bulls and ultimately sparked the Huskies to a 45-14 homecoming rout.

"We just did our job and did our assignments," said NIU sophomore safety Tommy Davis, who recovered a fumble in the second quarter. "When that happens, other teams won't get a lot of things going."

NIU's offense sputtered early on against Buffalo, as the Huskies failed to come away with points on three trips to the red zone in the first half and Michael Cklamovski missed field goals from 26, 51 and 25 yards.

The offense continued to receive opportunities because of the NIU defense and special teams that handed it the ball inside Buffalo territory six times. The Huskies converted four of those opportunities into touchdowns.

"As long as I've coached football, you win championships with defensive football and the kicking game," Kill said. "You got to be good at those and offensively you can't give the game away. I believe in that and that will never change."

While Spann and Harnish may be the team's media darlings, it's the Huskies' no-frills, sledgehammer defense that is the backbone of the their success this season and still the identity of a team that is capable of winning the MAC Championship.

It's a group with no star since junior safety Tracy Wilson has been sidelined with a groin injury since the second half of a Week 3 loss to Illinois. Although there may not be a first team All-MAC player in the bunch, the Huskies' cumulative success as a unit speaks for itself.

And they're only getting better.

"We got a great group of guys," Davis said. "We got an unselfish group of guys. I think that's a big part of it."

Sophomore linebacker Tyrone Clark, who had a team-high seven tackles Saturday, added: "We never settle. Our coaches never let us settle and we always want the most out of our side of the ball and as a team."

NIU has allowed only an average of 260 yards and 12 first downs a game during its last three games, all wins, Despite an 82-yard touchdown pass, Buffalo quarterback Jerry Davis might have lost his starting job following a 7 for 23 performance against the Huskies.

"They confused our quarterback and our receivers," Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn said. "That's why we weren't in any rhythm."

While the NIU defense had reason to gloat and celebrate following another dominant performance, there was senior cornerback Chris Smith – who intercepted Davis to set up an NIU touchdown late in the second quarterback – fixated on giving up the Buffalo offense's lone touchdown.

Wanting to be perfect, even if no one notices.

"I wasn't looking at my keys," Smith said. "I was looking in the backfield. That's something I wasn't supposed to be doing. That was my fault. That won't happen [any] more."

That brought a smile to Kill's face as his already special defensive group continues to focus more on learning from its mistakes than basking in the glow of any mention of success by the media.

"I think as a defense, we don't get too much into the publicity and all those things," Davis said. "We just like to go out there and play. I think each week as a defense we're getting better and better and better."

• Jeremy Werner is a sports reporter for the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at jwerner@daily-chronicle.com

Does NIU coach Rod Carey get enough credit for NIU's season?
Yes
No