9:02 PM EST, January 2, 2013
Maybe I watched and analyzed too many predictable Bears offensive efforts this season, but Tuesday night's ineffective Northern Illinois drill in the Orange Bowl certainly merged those two entities into the same conversation.
Jordan Lynch would run through a brick wall to move the chains for the Huskies, and that is pretty much what the NIU quarterback found himself trying to do against the stout Florida State defense. Again and again and again, Lynch was thwarted on the read option that he seemingly had perfected during the Huskies' historic 12-victory season that saw them average above 40 points per game.
At some point, I was waiting to see a variation on that "Lynch left, Lynch right and Lynch up-the-middle" theme. Lynch set an Orange Bowl record for quarterback rushes with 23. But he averaged just 1.9 yards per carry.
Perhaps if tailback Akeem Daniels had been called upon more often it would have helped. Daniels was dynamic when Lynch passed to him in space (two catches for 67 yards), but he should have received more than three running touches from scrimmage, if for no other reason than to distract the Seminoles from driving their helmets into Jordan's sternum.
Maybe Matt Forte and Daniels can sit down over lunch to share stories about their under-used skills.
"Yeah, it got frustrating at times," Lynch said after the 31-10 loss. "We tried to keep our composure and we had a lot of good stuff. We didn't execute at times. Myself, I missed a lot of throws that would have helped our O-line out. There's a reason (Florida State is) a top-five defense in the nation. All the respect goes to them."
NIU's running back depth was depleted with the unexplained absence of second-leading rusher Leighton Settle and the ankle injury to freshman Keith Harris Jr. Settle reportedly told NIU coaches weeks ago he plans to transfer and he wasn't listed on the Orange Bowl roster.
Lynch certainly has not been just a one-trick pony, and he has the NCAA records to certify that he is among the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. Even with his extremely modest numbers Tuesday night (15 of 41 passing for 176 yards, one touchdown and one interception to go along with 44 yards rushing), Lynch became the first NCAA FBS quarterback to pass for more than 3,000 yards and rush for more than 1,500 in a season.
Lynch's favorite target during the season was senior Martel Moore, who caught the 11-yard touchdown strike against Florida State. It marked the fifth straight game Moore has caught a touchdown pass. He had 13 for the season.
Sophomore wideout Tommylee Lewis caught five passes for a team-high 61 yards Tuesday night.
Rod Carey made his head coaching debut Tuesday night and retained the play-calling duties he handled deftly during the season as the offensive coordinator under Dave Doeren. The stage doesn't get any bigger for a school like Northern Illinois than the Orange Bowl, so Carey's challenge against one of the best college defenses was daunting.
Carey did get creative on special teams when he ordered a fake punt on fourth down and freshman Desroy Maxwell took the short snap 35 yards to the Florida State 33 on his first career carry. It also marked the third time this season NIU converted a first down on a fake punt.
The Huskies' Tyler Wedel also pulled off a successful onside kick that Paris Logan recovered.
"Yeah, play to win," Carey said of the trick plays. "That's what you have to do. We're playing to win, and we saw some things. We knew we had it."
The Huskies returned to DeKalb on Wednesday where fans greeted them and acknowledged a brilliant season. A standard of excellence has been set and expectations will grow now that NIU is on the entire nation's radar.