TOLEDO, Ohio – For the second straight week, Northern Illinois football beat a good team in front of a national audience, defeating Toledo, 35-17, on Wednesday night.
One would think that would impress the voters in the USA Today/Coaches’ and Harris polls, which would help the Huskies’ status in the BCS standings. NIU entered the game ranked No. 16, one spot behind fellow non-AQ program Fresno State.
And once again, Jordan Lynch did all he could playing on ESPN2, whose viewers probably included a number of Heisman Trophy voters.
Just as NIU coach Rod Carey said after last week’s win over Ball State at Huskie Stadium, he thinks Lynch deserves to be in the discussion for the Heisman.
“If he’s not in the Heisman conversation, I don’t know who should be in the country,” said Carey, who received a Gatorade bath as NIU clinched its fourth straight Mid-American Confernence West Division title. “He’s doing it with his legs and with his arm and with leadership. I’m just really proud of him and everybody tonight.”
Lynch certainly ran well, accounting for 161 yards and three touchdowns. As the second half wore on, the Rockets seemingly had no answer for Lynch and the NIU offense. The Huskies ran for 268 yards after halftime.
With Toledo trailing 21-17 at the end of the third quarter, Rockets coach Matt Campbell elected to punt from the Huskies’ 35-yard line. The kick was downed at the NIU 1-yard line. Campbell was playing field position, but in hindsight, punting inside the NIU 40 and giving up a scoring opportunity probably wasn’t a good idea with No. 6 on the other sideline.
Lynch and Co. took the ball and drove 99 yards, capped off by a 1-yard touchdown dive by the Huskies’ senior quarterback. Lynch called the long drive a “dagger” to the opposing defense.
“Honestly, it’s a great feeling,” Lynch said of his team’s 15-play, 99-yard drive that took 5:22. “It does [stink] being backed up 99 yards, you know. Just looking at all that space, on ESPN2, just showing the world, the nation what we can do. If I could have talked to you guys before that drive, I could have told you we were going to go down and score.”
Through 11 games, Lynch has 1,434 yards rushing and 17 rushing touchdowns in addition to 2,418 passing yards and 21 touchdowns.
He might not be able to pass Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston or last year’s Heisman winner, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, in the Heisman race, but he still has two more showcase games on ESPN2. Other quarterbacks such as Alabama’s AJ McCarron, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Fresno State’s Derek Carr also are in the conversation.
Maybe Lynch is in New York City when the trophy is presented.
The scary thing for opposing defenses is Lynch said the best is yet to come for him and the rest of the Huskies.
One underrated part of Lynch’s game this season has been his improved accuracy. After Wednesday’s 17-for-22 performance, Lynch has completed 66.3 percent of his passes. He finished the 2012 season with a 60.2 completion percentage.
“If you really think about it, this is my fourth year playing quarterback,” he said. “I played quarterback in high school (at Chicago’s Mt. Carmel), but we ran the triple-option, only threw the ball four times (a game), so I was pretty much a running back. Every game I get more and more comfortable playing football.”