The kid had talent and his high school coach knew it. And it helped that Frank Lenti has a resume that now includes 10 state football titles in Illinois.
So when Lenti talked to then Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill about the Mount Carmel quarterback, it wasn’t a struggle for Lenti to sell Jordan Lynch.
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“When he asked me about him, I said, ‘Coach, I can promise you one thing: No one in your program will ever outwork Jordan Lynch,” Lenti told Kill. “When he steps out on the field, the leadership level rises dramatically.”
Lynch, a redshirt junior, has led Northern Illinois to 12 straight wins after a season-opening loss to Iowa. And he has been a dynamic player on offense, leading the nation in total yards (4,733) and rushing yards (1,711). His single-season rushing total is the most by a quarterback in Football Bowl Subdivision history — surpassing Michigan’s Denard Robinson, who had 1,702 yards in 2010.
In the year of the dual-threat quarterback, where Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy and Kansas State’s Collin Klein was third, Lynch’s name is also in the conversation (he placed seventh in the Heisman voting).
While often perceived as a run-first quarterback — he has run for 19 touchdowns this season and averages 6.2 yards per carry — he’s completing 62.9 percent of his passes and has thrown 24 touchdowns.
And that’s the concern with defending Northern Illinois. Bring in an extra defender or two and make life more difficult for the Huskies to run the ball? Lynch will complete passes in one-on-one situations. Leave just seven defenders up front? Lynch will run, and he’s hit the 100-yard mark in 12 of 13 games this season.
“I wish I could clone him,” said Dave Doeren, who coached NIU the past two seasons but will not coach in the Orange Bowl after accepting an offer from N.C. State. “He is a great player, he is a great person and he’s from a good family that works hard.”
Lynch was a two-star recruit coming out of Mount Carmel in Chicago. He drew mild interest from a few Big Ten schools, but nothing serious. His only scholarship offer was from NIU and he didn’t waste much time in accepting the offer in June 2008.
He redshirted in 2009 and spent the next two seasons as a backup to Chandler Harnish. Lynch threw just 26 passes those two years, two for touchdowns. There was little indication of what he would do in 2012.
NIU struggled in the season opener, Lynch’s first start and a game that has led to heavy criticism of the Huskies’ spot in the Orange Bowl against Florida State. Lynch ran for 119 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. But he also completed just 6 of 16 passes for 54 yards in an 18-17 loss to Iowa.
Since then, he has been tough to stop. NIU has scored at least 30 points in every game after the opener. Yes, the wins have come against schools like Central Michigan, Buffalo and Massachusetts. But most of them haven’t been close.
In the MAC championship game, Lynch had 372 offensive yards and four touchdowns as NIU outlasted Kent State 44-37 in overtime.
“I didn’t go into the season trying to prove anyone wrong or turn heads,” Lynch said. “I knew what I could do throwing the ball, and I’m always trying to improve.”
Two nights later, Lynch and the Huskies gathered to watch the BCS announcement. When Northern Illinois vs. Florida State was announced, the Huskies celebrated. And then they heard the criticism — not directly of NIU but of the BCS rankings and that the Huskies would be playing in the Orange Bowl.
NIU is looking to earn that respect again with new coach Rod Carey on Jan. 1. But the Huskies will have to do it against an Florida State defense that allows just 93 rushing yards per game (fifth in FBS) and 15 points per game (seventh in FBS).
Florida State has seen plenty of dual-threat quarterbacks this year. There was Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, South Florida’s B.J. Daniels, Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas and Florida’s Jeff Driskel. Seminoles linebackers are torn — Christian Jones compares Lynch to Driskel. Vince Williams sees a similarity to Thomas.
“Everything rolls through their quarterback,” Williams said. “He’s a very physical runner.”
Often, Boyd and Daniels ran against Florida State to escape pressure. The Seminoles see NIU calling designed running plays, similar to what they faced with Thomas and Driskel.
Lynch has accounted for 4,773 of 6,315 of the Huskies’ offensive yards this year. So 75 percent of the time, Lynch is throwing or running.
“The guy can throw it, he can run it, he has the weapons around him and we’re going to have to be very sound in everything we do,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “… Seventy-five percent of what they do goes through him. He’s a heck of a player.”