Utah St.-N. Illinois Preview
Led by Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
can set the single-season school record for victories – though it
would come one game later than they would have liked.
Having just missed out on a second consecutive BCS bowl bid, the
No. 24 Huskies expect a serious challenge against Utah State and
its stout defense in the Poinsettia Bowl on Thursday night in San
After finishing 12-2 and losing 31-10 to Florida State in the
Orange Bowl last season, Northern Illinois (12-1) was again in
position to bust the BCS before losing 47-27 to Bowling Green in
the Mid-American Conference title game Dec. 6. Averaging 42.8
points and 542.3 total yards heading into that contest, the Huskies
were held to 454 yards and matched their lowest point total of the
year while allowing a season high.
“(That) game doesn’t define us – we’re not going to let it,”
coach Rod Carey said. “We’ve got another game. We still have a lot
to play for.”
Making a MAC-record sixth straight bowl appearance, NIU will try
for a school-record 13th win in Lynch’s collegiate swan song.
The senior topped his own FBS single-season rushing record for a
quarterback of 1,815 yards from 2012 by gaining 1,881 this season.
He set the FBS single-game rushing mark for a quarterback with 316
yards against Central Michigan on Oct. 19, then topped it with 321
versus Western Michigan on Nov. 26.
Lynch, who needs 119 rushing yards to become the first player in
NCAA history to run and throw for 2,000 in the same season,
accounted for 46 touchdowns rushing, passing and receiving in 2013.
He’s one of five players in NCAA history with 20 rushing and 20
passing TDs in a season.
While going 24-3 the last two seasons as a starter, Lynch has
compiled 9,510 yards and 89 touchdowns on the ground and through
Though he was held to 126 yards on 26 carries and threw two
interceptions in the league title game, Lynch’s third-place finish
in the Heisman voting is the highest in MAC history.
“It’s hard to get selected from a non-(automatic qualifying
conference),” said Lynch, who finished seventh last season. “One of
the biggest things is you have to win games, have a winning team
and your stats have to separate you from the bigger schools.
“I knew if I had a chance (to be a Heisman finalist) it would be
a good individual season, and I knew it would take a great year as
a team for us.”
With a defense among the top 10 in the FBS in points (17.3) and
rushing yards (107.3) allowed per game, Utah State (8-5) is eager
for the challenge of trying to contain Lynch and the Huskies.
“They are very well-coached and obviously very talented,” coach
Matt Wells told the school’s official website.
The Aggies’ school-record third straight bowl appearance also
comes against a third consecutive MAC opponent. Playing in the
Idaho Potato Bowl each of the last two seasons, Utah State lost
24-23 to Ohio in 2011 and beat Toledo 41-15 in 2012.
It didn’t seem like the Aggies would have any postseason plans
while sitting 3-4 and without star quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who
suffered a season-ending knee injury during a 31-14 loss to BYU on
Oct. 4. However, with freshman Darell Garretson at the helm, Utah
State outscored opponents 168-51 during a five-game winning streak
that ended with a 24-17 loss to then-No. 24 Fresno State in the
first Mountain West Conference title game Dec. 7.
“It’s a tremendous group of young men,” said Wells, the MWC
coach of the year. “The thing that I’m proud of is they continue to
move this program little by little, step by step.
“We’ve just got a lot of fighters, kids who continue to
Senior Joey DeMartino became Utah State’s third-straight
1,000-yard rusher with 1,078 and 12 touchdowns.
Garretson completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 1,325 yards
with nine TDs and five INTs in seven games, but he could sit out
after enduring a helmet-to-helmet hit against Fresno State. Junior
Craig Harrison, who has played in seven games and went 4 of 9 for
55 yards with a late interception in the league title game, could
start if Garretson is out.
The Aggies have a 2-6 all-time bowl record while the Huskies are
Utah State won the only previous meeting with NIU, 42-7 on Oct.