Northwestern defense avoids dj vu

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Northwestern defense avoids dj vu

It was a tale of two halves for the Northwestern defense Saturday at Ryan Field in the Big Ten opener.

The Wildcats held the Indiana offense in check throughout the first half, allowing just 145 yards and heading into half with the shutout intact.

In the second half, the Hoosiers struck early and often, scoring 29 points and racking up 280 yards. At one point, Indiana got into the endzone on four straight possessions, though one of which was a 96-yard kick return. No scoring drive lasted longer than 2 minutes and 30 seconds, displaying the Hoosiers' complete efficiency.

"In the second half, they caught us in passing coverages as we were transitioning," said linebacker Damien Proby, who led all players with 14 tackles. "It opened up gaps and that's something we just can't have happening. It's little fundamental things that will get corrected in the future."

"Obviously, we've got some holes in the dam," Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "We allowed way too much water to sift through. Credit the Hoosiers. They blocked us, they ran through us and they ran around us. We've gotta fix that starting right now."

The second-half defensive woes neared the point of dj vu for the Wildcats, who gave up 28 points late in the season opener at Syracuse before barely eeking out a last-second win.

But Proby and the defense came up with a big stop midway through the fourth quarter when the Hoosiers were in reach -- down just eight points -- and shut down Indiana the rest of the way.

"This game was a little bit different than Syracuse from the standpoint that we were in position and we gotta make plays," Fitzgerald said. "I don't have a magic pill for that. I don't have a drill for that.

"I have great confidence in the guys. They just have to have confidence in trusting themselves. I'm disappointed for them. But I think we're at a completely different place as a defense as we were then. You know, you also give up a kick return, which really hurts you.

The kick return was a point of emphasis for Fitzgerald after the game.

"You give them a freebie," he said. "When you don't tackle, you lose contain and you have guys out of their lanes. We have to do some figuring on that."

Fitzgerald said he would address some personnel issues on the kick coverage team, which features some players that played a lot of snaps on defense as well as special teams.

As much as the Northwestern defense "let the water sift through" in the second half, as Fitzgerald put it, they still managed to keep a prolific Indiana offense in check.

The Hoosiers entered play Saturday averaging 36 points and 538.3 yards per game. The Wildcats held them to 425 yards and only 22 points, with seven more points coming on that special teams breakdown.

Fitzgerald thinks the defense could have had an even better day, if just another few plays were executed properly.

"They did a terrific job in the second half by making big plays in the passing game," Fitzgerald said. "We had guys in position. If we win on those plays, it's a completely different outcome.

"Six or eight of those plays are gonna go for about 200-300 of the yards. Our guys are gonna watch it on Monday morning and they're going to see a technical, a fundamental or an execution issue.

"They're not going to see that they were out-talented. They're not going to see that we were out-schemed. They're going to see that they can fix those problems. And that's the way we're going to coach these guys. "we've got a lot of good momentum going on, but we're far, far from the finished product in all three phases of the game."

As questions about his future remain, David Accam is in his best run with the Fire

As questions about his future remain, David Accam is in his best run with the Fire

For the past two seasons, David Accam was a bright spot on bad Chicago Fire teams.

This season, with more talent on the roster, Accam has blossomed into one of the most dangerous players in the league.

He had a hat trick and an assist in Saturday’s 4-0 win against Orlando. That gives him 10 goals and six assists on the season. Only two other players in Major League Soccer have 16 combined goals and assists, New York City FC's David Villa and teammate Nemanja Nikolic (the leading goal-scorer in the league).

“I thought I could do anything on the pitch today,” Accam said. “I just wanted to enjoy myself and entertain the fans and also help the team win. That’s what we did today, especially after my first goal. I just thought I could get more goals and also help the team win.”

Accam’s big game comes after he sat out the previous two games, which were both played on turf. He wasn’t listed on the injury report, but coach Veljko Paunovic said, “he didn’t recover from the physical issues that he had in the previous game.”

The rest seemed to do Accam some good, but his success in the game (as well as his recent run of eight goals and four assists in his last eight matches) coincides with questions about his future. He was recently rumored to be the target of a Turkish club.

In the past, Accam has spoken about his ambition to play at the highest levels. Typically, that means Europe. General manager Nelson Rodriguez said last month that he expects offers to come in for the 26-year-old because he is a good player in his prime ages.

So is Accam playing like someone trying to earn a new contract? That could be either impressing potential suitors in Europe or boosting his negotiation position with the Fire. Rodriguez has talked about contract negotiations with Accam before, and said those will not resume again until after the season.

“I wanted to be in a team where I would develop as a person and also win trophies, whether here or somewhere (else) I don’t know,” Accam said. “For me, I’m doing really well here and every year if I keep playing well there will be always interest. I know there is a lot of interest because I’m doing well. For me it’s always extra motivation to keep doing well. You don’t know where I will end up, whether here or somewhere else. I’ll just keep playing.”

Accam’s play earned him another call-up to the Ghanaian national team. He will join the team on Sunday for a pair of friendlies in the U.S. The Black Stars will take on Mexico in Houston on June 28 and the U.S. in East Hartford, Conn., on July 1 as the two North American countries prepare for the Gold Cup.

“That’s where I want to be,” Accam said. “I want to be playing for the national team so it’s extra motivation for me to perform well and also to go to the national team.”

Accam has been one of the most productive players in MLS this year, based on goals and assists, and is young enough to draw the attention of plenty of teams. For now, the Fire have him as a key part of the best season the club has had in years.

“I think that he understands very well how to play with the team that we have now and with the teammates that he is surrounded with,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We just have to work to give David opportunities… Then we expect that performances like that will come even more.”

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