News conference notes: Defense bends, doesn't break

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DeKALB – Northern Illinois’ defense bent Saturday.

The Huskies gave up 458 yards of total offense, 202 yards on the ground.

However, what Huskies coach Rod Carey liked was the fact the unit didn’t break. NIU made big plays when it needed to, forcing three Hawkeye turnovers, including Jimmie Ward’s fourth-quarter interception which set up Mathew Sims’ game-winning field goal.

“They bent but they didn’t break. I loved that about our defense,” Carey said during Tuesday’s weekly news conference. “They go ahead and they make a play to get some momentum back on their side, whether it’s a small thing, a little play, a first-down-and-10 play that went for a yard or two. Now all of sudden they’re ahead of the chains instead of the offense being ahead of the chains.”

Carey said there were some normal first-game issues such as alignment and communication that his team will need to correct.

NIU’s defense gave up 17 first-half points (the other seven coming on Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey’s fumble return), but allowed just three in the second half.

“Coaches had a good plan for us, we just went out there and executed,” said junior safety Dechane Durante, who had an interception. “Made the best of our opportunities.”

Huskies 30th in both major polls: Northern Illinois came in at No. 30 in both major polls when they were released Tuesday.

The Huskies received 27 points in The Associated Press Poll, and 30 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.

The Huskies received 16 points in the preseason AP Poll, which ranked them 35th in the nation, and 19 in the preseason Coaches Poll, which had NIU at No. 37.

Boxing gloves: On the wall in McCareins Auditorium at the Yordon Center, there are sets of boxing gloves with names of each of the starters in the secondary on them. Durante said they represent how each starter is fighting for his job. Defensive coordinator Jay Niemann introduced the gloves at the end of fall camp.

“Every week, your job’s up for grabs,” Durante said.

Lewis update: Carey said he was going to get a report on wide receiver Tommylee Lewis (ankle sprain) later Tuesday. Carey said the way Lewis is walking is a good sign.

– Steve Nitz, snitz@shawmedia.com, @SNitz_DDC

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