Northern Illinois Football: How the Huskies Can Contend with FSU in Orange Bowl
For the moment, let's put aside our opinions about Northern Illinois University and whether it truly deserves to be in the Orange Bowl.
Instead, let's focus on how NIU can upset a team that, not too long ago, seemed as though it could contend for the national championship.
Florida State may be 11-2, and it may be the best team in the ACC (take that for what it's worth). It may have one of the most explosive offenses in the NCAA, but this team is not unbeatable. Just ask NC State and, of course, Florida.
Here's what the MAC champs need to do to have a chance against the Seminoles in the Orange Bowl.
Run the Ball
The Huskies don't have a bad passing offense, but where they really shine is on the run. This is a team that averages 250.2 rushing yards per game, good for ninth in the NCAA. And this is an area in which it really has the potential to overpower Florida State's very, very good defense.
In FSU's 37-26 loss to Florida at the end of November, the Gators gained 244 yards on the ground. They only threw for 150 yards. Senior running back Mike Gillislee rushed for 140 of those yards and two scores. What all this adds up to is that NIU senior quarterback Jordan Lynch's work is cut out for him.
Lynch leads the Huskies with 1,771 rushing yards this season. That, coupled with the 2,962 passing yards this season, makes him a serious threat to the Seminoles. However, if he follows the game plan that the Gators used to topple FSU just over a month ago, his chances of leading his team to a huge upset victory are far better.
Score Early and Often
Everyone loves to talk about Florida State's defense—which was excellent this season, no question—but the Huskies weren't too shabby themselves. They ranked 18th in the NCAA, allowing just 19.0 points per game. There were a couple of times when things spiraled out of control—the Huskies allowed 30 or more points three times—but for the most part, this unit was solid.
Even during those times when the defense fell apart, NIU's offense was able to pick it up.
In its final 12 games of the season after suffering a Week 1 loss to Iowa, there was not a single game in which this offense scored fewer than 30 points. This unit scored early and overwhelmed opponents, often before halftime. Doing that against FSU and its stellar defense isn't going to be easy, but doing it is also one of the only ways in which this team can pull off a massive upset.
Tune Out the Haters
There are plenty of people who are going to claim, until the very end, that NIU has no business playing in this bowl. Sure, what it did this season was impressive—after losing its season opener to Iowa by a single point, it reeled off 12 consecutive wins—but a MAC team in a BCS bowl? Against the nation's sixth-best defense? Come on.
Who's your pick to win the Orange Bowl?
No matter what the doubters say, the Huskies are here, in the Orange Bowl, and now all they can do is prove that they deserved this berth. There's no other option. Despite the fact that NIU's level of competition in 2012 may have been a little less intimidating than what Florida State had to face, this team was still pretty impressive. Five times, it held opponents to single-digit scoring. Seven times, it scored 40 or more points.
This team has character. You don't win the season finale in double-overtime with a BCS bowl on the line if you don't have character. It's just a matter of the Huskies tuning out the negativity and remembering what they did to get here—then doing it again.
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