Updated: November 16, 2011 11:35AM
DEKALB, Ill. — Few things can cheer up a struggling team better than a lopsided win.
Thanks to a spectacular effort Saturday by its maligned defense, which had been giving up 39.6 points per game, Northern Illinois beat Kent State 40-10 before 14,251 at Huskie Stadium to even its record at 3-3 and gain its first Mid-American Conference victory.
“Our defensive line took charge, and that’s what they have to do,” NIU coach Dave Doeren said.
“We’ve talked about playing for each other, being a family and protecting our house, and we did that.”
Kent State (1-5, 0-2) was never in the game against the Huskies.
NIU’s defense held the Golden Flashes to 70 yards of total offense.
It recovered two fumbles, blocked two punts and a field goal and sacked redshirt freshman quarterback Cedric McCloud seven times.
Kent State scored its lone touchdown with 2:40 left after NIU running back Jamal Womble fumbled.
The ball was recovered by safety Luke Wollet, and he went 36 yards for the score.
For a change, NIU’s offense, the best in the MAC, was off form.
It lost all three of its fumbles and was forced to settle for four field goals by sophomore kicker Mathew Sims.
“They say defense wins championships, and our defense was outstanding,” star quarterback Chandler Harnish said.
“But we have to score touchdowns instead of field goals.”
Harnish completed 12 of 15 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown and ran the ball 11 times for 65 yards and a touchdown.
But the defense set the tone.
On Kent State’s fifth play from scrimmage, junior nose guard Nabal Jefferson intercepted a pass by quarterback Spencer Keith and went 25 yards for a touchdown.
Keith, a junior, has been struggling all season.
“We said before the game that if Keith struggled early, we’d go with [McCloud],” Kent State coach Darrell Hazell said. “These were [McCloud’s] first snaps as a college quarterback.”
McCloud completed only six of 22 passes for 63 yards.
“I held the ball too long sometimes,” McCloud said.
“As for the seven sacks, I’m all right. It’s part of the game. Quarterbacks expect to get hit.”
Kent State kicker Freddy Cortez answered Jefferson’s touchdown with a 24-yard field goal.
But Northern Illinois blew the game open by scoring 33 unanswered points.