MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Northern Illinois learned a few things by playing in this year’s Orange Bowl.
First, the Huskies of the Mid-American Conference were no match for Florida State on this New Year’s Day evening. Second, when you playing on the big stage, actions and words don’t stay in the MAC.
Then again, the Huskies could have been stuck in DeKalb, Ill., where the temperature at kickoff was 9 degrees. A few hard knocks undoubtedly were worth the trip.
The final score was 31-10 at Sun Life Stadium, as the Huskies lost their first BCS bowl appearance.
NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch, ranked third in the country in total offense, had entered the game as a triple threat — doing damage with his arm, his legs and, at least in the days leading up to the Orange Bowl, his mouth.
During the game, Lynch did not resemble the talented runner-passer. He rushed for just 44 yards and completed 15-of-41 pass attempts for 176 yards, a touchdown and a costly interception.
This was the same redshirt junior who was quoted last week as saying NIU’s offense would wear down the Seminoles and, “In the fourth quarter, we plan to have them on their knees.”
When Lynch was asked for his postgame thoughts about the published comments, Huskies coach Rod Carey forcefully unleashed some pent-up frustration from the interview room podium.
“Those were taken out of context, OK, that’s not right,” Carey said before Lynch could respond. “He didn’t say that, and I want to say I’ve been waiting until after the game to say that. That was taken out (of context) and everybody made a big deal out of it. I was there. I was at the interview. He did not make those comments.”
Later in the locker room, Lynch repeated what his coach had said.
“They switched up my words. The guy was just trying to sell papers or whatever he did,” Lynch said. “I respect every team, and I definitely respect Florida State’s defense. They’re a top-five defense, I don’t see why I would come out and start talking trash.”
Carey admitted he was upset at losing, and no doubt was coming to the defense of Lynch. Both men likely learned a thing about increased media attention.
Whatever Lynch did say before the game, the Seminoles used the published comments to their advantage.
“It was the fact we had motive,” FSU linebacker Telvin Smith said. “He (Lynch) gave us us motive. He came out before the game and said we were going to be on our knees in the fourth quarter.”
Thanks largely to two trick plays and Florida State offense’s failure to cash in fully, Northern Illinois amazingly found itself down by just seven points late in the third quarter.
Not only that, the Huskies had momentum.
They were driving deep in FSU territory after recovering an on-side kick that followed a Lynch scoring pass to Martel Moore.
On third-and-8 and already in field-goal range at the FSU 23, Lynch dropped back, scrambled right and forced a pass that was intercepted by Terrence Brooks on the right sideline. Lynch should have thrown the ball away.
And unfortunately for Lynch, he failed to see Moore open as he cut across the middle.
“They were always in the right spot at the right time it seemed like, and they played — they were just hungry out there,” Lynch said of the FSU defensive players.
When Florida State took a 24-10 when EJ Manuel ran for a TD on the first play of the fourth quarter, the game was pretty much over.
The final score could have been worse. Florida State was driving on its first possession of the game when Nick O’Leary fumbled on the NIU 29. Also, the Seminoles settled for a field goal early in the third quarter despite being first-and-goal from the 5.
The game was not as ugly as last year’s Orange Bowl, when West Virginia trounced Clemson 70-33. Nor did Northern Illinois embarrass itself.
In the first quarter, NIU successfully executed a fake punt on fourth-and-3 from its own 32 when Desroy Maxwell ran for 35 yards. That first down led to a Mathew Sims 25-yard field goal, cutting FSU’s lead to 7-3.
But make no mistake, 14-point favorite Florida State clearly was the more talented team. The Seminoles had a big advantage in speed on both sides of the ball, something that helped the Seminoles outgain the Huskies 534-259 in total offense.
“We knew coming into the game they were a top-5 defense for a reason,” Lynch said. “They were the fastest team, they’re well-coached. All the respect goes to them.”