Falcons bust NIU’s BCS dream
DETROIT — Northern Illinois and Jordan Lynch were ready for their coronation ceremony Friday night.
No one told Matt Johnson and Bowling Green.
Johnson threw for 393 yards and a title game-record five touchdowns as the Falcons won the Mid-American Conference championship game 47-27 at Ford Field, ruining Northern Illinois’ bid for a second straight BCS berth.
“We got a lot of motivation from listening to the media all week,” the sophomore said. “All we heard about was how they were going to bust the BCS again, and we wanted to remind everyone that they still had to beat us if they wanted to do it.”
Johnson was also fired up by his individual matchup with Lynch, the Huskies’ record-setting quarterback.
“There’s been all kinds of talk about Jordan Lynch, and how he’s in contention for the Heisman Trophy and everything else,” he said. “He deserves all of that, but, yeah, I started taking it a little personally after a while. We didn’t want people to forget we were here.”
Lynch had a decent game, rushing for 126 yards and throwing for 219, but it is his two interceptions that he is going to remember.
“I never turn the ball over,” he said. “I think I only had six all season, so to have two tonight is just unacceptable. I set high standards for myself, and I didn’t come close tonight.”
Lynch has 1,885 yards rushing this season, breaking the record he took away from Denard Robinson last season, and needs 115 in a bowl game to put up the first 2,000/2,000 season in FBS history. Against the Falcons, though, he wasn’t able to dominate the game in the way he has during the last two seasons.
“They have a great quarterback, and he deserves all the accolades he’s gotten, but we’ve got some good players and some good coaches,” Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said. “We didn’t come into this game thinking we had to change everything in order to stop Jordan Lynch. We played our defense and we made plays. At the end of the day, that’s all it takes.”
Bowling Green defensive back Aaron Foster, playing in his hometown, intercepted one of Lynch’s passes — the first of his career — and broke up two more. Like his teammates, he said the hype surrounding Lynch gave him extra motivation.
“We just wanted to show everyone that he’s still human,” he said. “Plus I figured that after 51 games, I better pick off a pass before I graduated.”
Lynch, though, was far from the reason that the Huskies won’t be going back to the BCS. Johnson shredded the Huskies defense for 294 yards and four touchdowns in the first half as Bowling Green built a 31-13 lead. The Falcons only needed five plays to go 75 yards on the first drive of the game, with Johnson hitting Tyler Beck for a 28-yard score, and the rout was on.
“That really helped, because you come into the game playing in an NFL stadium for the MAC championship against the No. 14 team in the country, and your nerves are flying all over the place,” he said. “When we went right down the field and scored, it showed us that we could win this game.”
Johnson was hitting wide-open receivers all over the field — his five touchdowns all went to different players — and Clawson wasn’t surprised.
“We came in here to throw the ball,” he said. “That was our game plan. We thought we could protect Matt and we thought we could get guys open. We watched the tapes, and we saw what they do on defense, and we thought we could beat them through the air.”
Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey wasn’t about to disagree.
“Obviously, Bowling Green played a great, great game,” he said. “They didn’t do anything we weren’t expecting. They just executed their offense better than we could defend it.”
One of the two teams might be back at Ford Field later this month for the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl — the announcements will be made on Sunday — but Clawson might not be joining the Falcons at any bowl game. As has become traditional for successful coaches in the MAC, rumors are swirling about him getting offers from bigger schools.
Clawson didn’t want to talk about that on the night that Bowling Green won its first conference title in 21 years, but he didn’t deny the possibility, either.
“Right now, I’m just going to enjoy tonight,” he said. “A couple years ago, there were rumors that I was going to get fired, and I had to answer these questions, and now I have to answer them because we are winning. I understand that, but I’m not going to comment. Not tonight.”
Clawson was much happier when he and his players were reminded that they had just cost the school around a half-million dollars — Bowling Green’s share of the millions in BCS money that Northern Illinois would have earned.
“I am just devastated by the fact that Northern Illinois isn’t going to get that BCS payday,” he said through a burst of laughter.
“We just won a championship, but now we might not be able to afford jockstraps for next season.”