DeKALB – Something had to change.
After weeks of poor defensive performances and the subsequent negativity that surrounded those games, Northern Illinois' defense felt it finally showed its potential during Saturday's 40-10 win against Kent State at Huskie Stadium.
NIU coach Dave Doeren, by necessity, has switched defensive personnel to find a group that could put together four solid quarters. Those weeks of switches might have ended Saturday after the Huskies held Kent State to 10 points, 70 total yards and a third down conversion rate of 1 for 15.
Those changes included: a first start for senior defensive end Kyle Jenkins (one sack), a second start for junior cornerback Jhony Faustin (one pass breakup, three tackles), getting defensive backs Jimmie Ward and Dechane Durante on the field more at safety, and subbing in redshirt freshman linebacker Michael Santacaterina (four tackles and a forced fumble) on third downs.
Doeren said it was a way to feature more players that have been doing certain things on film. In reality, it fixed what the Huskies were lacking the previous week in the loss to Central Michigan.
"Honestly, Dechane Durante is one of the more physical tacklers at safety, and that's been a problem for us right now is being physical when we tackle," Doeren said. "So I told those guys [on defense] to put their top two tacklers in the game."
Asked how close he was to finding the right personnel combination on defense, Doeren had a quick reply.
"I think 70 yards answers that question," Doeren said.
This week, against the worst offense statistically in the FBS, yes, it does. Give credit where it's due, the Huskies came to play on defense on Saturday, and they did it in an impressive manner.
Is NIU's defense good enough to beat Western Michigan, though? No one knows.
That answer Doeren gave also says that this is the defensive crew NIU's coach will ride with next week when a potent Western Michigan offense comes to DeKalb. He's got 60 minutes of tape to back up that feeling after what easily was the Huskies best defensive performance of the season.
"I think all of us were sick of knowing how good we are and not showing it," Doeren said. "That's what today was about. We know what we have to do and we need to do it, not talk about it."
So, if you're an NIU fan, cautious optimism is probably where you came down after Saturday's demolition. The Huskies made significant progress on defense, there's no doubt about that, but how much of that translates to an upper echelon Mid-American Conference offense will be the great unknown leading up to the showdown with the Broncos.
NIU's defense rightfully felt good about itself after Saturday's win. Next week will prove if that feeling should last.
• John Sahly is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @JSahly