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Klieman Helps Design UNI's Semifinal Run
Former Loras coach a co-architect of Panthers’ ‘physical, fast’ defense.
Two words define the Northern Iowa defense, according to one of its chief designers: Physical and fast. The adjectives also define the way Chris Klieman trains his teams to play.
Care Bear football it ain’t. The Panthers try to hit like Ray Lewis and run like Devin Hester. Their tackles aren’t easy to forget, usually sting for awhile and sometimes leave a mark.
“Our kids take a lot of pride in getting 11 guys to play fast, smart and get to the football extremely well,” Klieman said. “If you look at our track record the last two years, we’ve played very fast, aggressive, disciplined football.”
Under the tutelage of co-coordinators Klieman and former Nebraska star Scott Frost, the Northern Iowa defense has fueled the Panthers’ run to the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals. No. 4-ranked Northern Iowa (12-2) hosts No. 7 Richmond (11-3) Saturday at 3 p.m. at UNI-Dome with the winner earning a ticket to the FCS title game.
For Klieman, Northern Iowa’s semifinal run has been in a special ride. The former Loras College head coach and standout UNI defensive back returned to his alma mater in 2006 in a decision Klieman says was all about family. He says he still has a little Duhawk in him.
“It was a great fit for me. My folks still live here. My brother still lives here. It was a great chance for me to improve myself,” Klieman said Tuesday night as he took a break from a film study session on Richmond. “I still follow the Duhawks every Saturday. I’m always searching the paper or the web to see how they did.”
After working two years as the Panthers’ secondary coach, UNI coach Mark Farley promoted Klieman to co-defensive coordinator for the 2008 season.
He and Frost – who quarterbacked Nebraska to the 1997 Division I national championship – have built UNI into an aggressive, turnover-forcing machine that complements a high-powered Panther offense averaging 29 points per game.
Northern Iowa’s defensive aggressiveness has caused havoc for its opponents. The Panthers boast a dazzling plus-21 turnover margin with 24 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries. Northern Iowa’s defense has produced four touchdowns and recorded three safeties.
Under Klieman and Frost, junior defensive end James Ruffin developed into the 2008 Missouri Valley Defensive Player of the Year. Ruffin has made 98 tackles and recorded eight sacks. Senior defensive back Darrell Lloyd, junior linebacker Josh Mahoney and senior defensive lineman Everette Pedescleaux also earned MVC first team honors.
“Our kids have really bought into the philosophy we’ve been teaching the last four years,” Klieman said. “They take it upon themselves every week to get better. James may be the best player in Division I-AA, but whoever we call on makes plays in critical situations.”
UNI’s defense was at its opportunistic best while saving the Panthers’ season against New Hampshire in the FCS quarterfinals.
Northern Iowa forced six turnovers, including senior cornerback Terrell McMoore’s critical 36-yard third-quarter Pick-6 interception return to help UNI – which was also buoyed by a raucous home crowd – hold on for a 36-34 victory.
“Our kids took the (passing) routes away” against New Hampshire, Klieman said. “Our crowd really helped us get the win. There’s no way New Hampshire could hear anything on their last four drives.”
Klieman and the UNI defense have one of their toughest tests of the year in Richmond. The Spiders are armed with a 1,600-yard tailback in senior Josh Vaughan (averaging 116 yards per game) and have a dual pass-run threat in quarterback Eric Ward. The dangerous Spiders are fresh off a 33-13 upset of three-time defending national champion Appalachian State.
“If they can run the football, that sets up their play-action passing game,” Klieman said. “The challenge for our defense is to control their running game and elimate the big plays in their passing game.”
Klieman helps design UNI’s semifinal run
By Clete Campbell, The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald (IA)
Photo Credit: Photo by: Deana Mitchell/The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald