NIU vs. Toledo: 10 Things We Learned in the Huskies' Win over the Rockets
On the back and legs of Jordan Lynch, the Northern Illinois Huskies (11-0) remained undefeated, as the team beat Toledo (7-4) by a score of 35-17.
Lynch accounted for 363 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns on the night. Without his top two receivers, he literally took the team on his back and carried them to victory.
Toledo was buoyed by a strong ground game early in the contest. After halftime, the team seemed to lose its edge and was unable to sustain any consistency on either side of the ball.
Here's 10 things we learned from the Huskies' victory over the Rockets.
Toledo Didn't Give Itself a Chance to Win
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers.
Against a team the caliber of Northern Illinois, one cannot commit multiple turnovers, let alone four, and have a chance to be victorious.
Toledo shot itself in the proverbial foot at inopportune times. On the first offensive play of the game, Toledo signal-caller Terrance Owens was sacked, and he fumbled. Northern Illinois thus turned that takeaway into a touchdown.
Later in the game, an ill-advised halfback pass from the 3-yard line resulted in an interception. When it comes down to it, Toledo didn't give itself a chance to win.
Jordan Lynch Put the Team on His Back
NIU's signal-caller was absolutely sensational Wednesday night.
He accounted for 363 all-purpose yards and three rushing touchdowns. In terms of breaking it down, Lynch threw for 202 and rushed for 161.
Lynch only had 30 yards rushing at halftime. By that time, the Huskies' offense was sputtering and had no signs of explosiveness or production. The absence of receivers Da'Ron Brown and Tommylee Lewis hindered the offensive prospects for the night.
The signal-caller took it upon himself to lead his team to victory when needed most. On his back (and legs), the Huskies outscored the Rockets by 21 points after halftime. Lynch ran with authority, showing why he should be considered as a viable Heisman Trophy candidate.
The Mark of a Great Team
In the first half, NIU was outplayed in all facets of the game. The offense was not able to sustain anything on the ground or in the air, and was absolutely atrocious on special teams. Toledo was the more physical football team and was also the more emotional bunch.
In the second half, the light bulb went on for Lynch and the Huskies.
It was NIU who dominated up front on both sides. The offensive line imposed its will on the undersized Toledo front. Lynch racked up rushing yards at an extremely high clip.
In the third quarter alone, NIU scored on touchdown drives of 65, 85 and 99 yards. On the third 99-yard scoring march, Lynch converted on a 3rd-and-9 attempt from the NIU 3-yard line. Without that conversion, the game could have ended up differently.
Lynch Missed Brown and Lewis
Jordan Lynch won this game with his ability to run the football.
The absence of receivers Da'Ron Brown and Tommylee Lewis made Lynch's massive activity on the ground a necessity. Simply put, the Huskies didn't have a receiver that could stretch the field and open things up vertically. As a result, the offense became somewhat constricted and compressed.
The play-calling understandably was not very creative nor diverse without the aforementioned receiving duo. With a healthy Lewis and Brown, it helps to add another dimension to an already potent offense. Both are viable threats to score any time they touch the ball in space.
Against tougher competition, the lack of healthy playmakers on the perimeter could really prove to be a problem down the line.
Toledo Dominated the LOS in the First Half
In the early part of the game, Toledo's offensive line had its way with NIU's front seven.
Even without a healthy David Fluellen, the Rockets managed to rush for 184 yards on the night. The controlling of the line of scrimmage in the first half helped to keep Lynch and the NIU offense off of the field. Lynch was not able to get in any semblance of a rhythm as a result of the grinding pace employed by the Rockets' offense.
Aside from a poor throw on an even poorer play call, freshman Kareem Hunt looks like a future star at the running back position. He led the team with 91 yards rushing on 19 carries.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, this effort was not able to be sustained in the second half.
Jimmie Ward Is a Player
NIU safety Jimmie Ward is an absolute stud.
This interception on Wednesday night illustrates why he's considered to not only be one of the best defensive backs in the MAC, but also a bona fide NFL prospect. The interception will undoubtedly go down as one of the best we've seen thus far in the season.
Against the Rockets, Ward was the quarterback of the defense. He plays an integral role as the organizer out on the field. He constantly was making sure that everyone on the Huskies' defense was aligned properly. He acted essentially as another coach out on the field.
Ward is a perfect example of an underrated prospect who isn't seen with much regularity.
Mathew Wells Is Relieved
The NIU kicker came into Wednesday night's game with only one field-goal miss (13-14) on the season. Sims also was perfect on all extra-point attempts.
In Wednesday night's game, he missed all three of his field-goal attempts. One of the misses was from as close as 23 yards away. His missed kicks really did put his offense initially in a bind. NIU went into halftime down by a score of 10-7.
Luckily for the kicker, NIU started to score some touchdowns in the second half. He did not attempt another field goal after halftime.
The Implications of the Victory
This slide will illustrate how truly dominant Northern Illinois has been recently.
With the victory over Toledo, it marks 24-straight MAC victories for the Huskies. The win also makes it 15-straight wins on the road (which is tops in FBS). The win Wednesday night also won NIU the MAC West Division.
The battle against Fresno State as the "BCS Buster" is still in play. If both teams were to win out, it'd be interesting to see whether or not an undefeated NIU or Fresno State team would play in a BCS game over a two-loss team from a major conference.
MACtion Is Underrated Football
#MACtion should be the new, trendy hashtag on Twitter. I was astounded that it wasn't trending as this game was being played.
In all seriousness, the Mid-American Conference doesn't get a ton of notoriety outside of the Midwest. It's an exciting brand of football, fully equipped with explosive offenses and some pretty good talent. The conference might not have the depth of a big conference, but there are plenty of good athletes across the board.
Not only does the MAC have a viable Heisman Trophy candidate (Jordan Lynch), but it also has a projected top-10 pick (Khalil Mack). Can the Big 12 or the Big 10 say the same thing?
Current Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Eric Fisher was the top overall pick in 2013.
Where did he attend college?
What conference is Central Michigan in?
Lynch Should Be Invited to New York
There's no question that Lynch should snag an invite to the Heisman Trophy award ceremony in New York.
I don't believe he's as talented as some of the other marquee quarterbacks in bigger leagues. He lacks the athleticism and size to be considered a pro prospect at the position. Regardless, is there another player that means as much to his respective team as Lynch?
He is Northern Illinois. The Huskies' program, with all due respect, would be completely inconsequential and irrelevant without the heroics of their signal-caller. His statistical brilliance and career resume truly does speak for itself.