Poinsettia Bowl 2013: Utah State vs. Northern Illinois, Predictions and More

Martin Sondermann@@GamedayreporterAnalyst IIDecember 9, 2013

Poinsettia Bowl 2013: Utah State vs. Northern Illinois, Predictions and More

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    Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

    The 2013 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl will feature the Utah State Aggies (8-5, 7-1 MW) versus the Northern Illinois Huskies (12-1, 8-0 MAC). It will be the second time the Huskies have played in this bowl, but it is a debut for the Aggies.

    This game will showcase one of the top offenses in the FBS, as NIU and senior quarterback Jordan Lynch will be looking to show off some of that fire power in San Diego.

    Utah State has a highly ranked defense, however, and the Aggies will no doubt be looking to shut down Lynch and the rest of that Huskies offense.

    For the Aggies, this will be the first time in school history that the team has gone to a bowl game in three straight seasons. For the Huskies, it will be its sixth consecutive bowl game.

    Of course, it could have been a second BCS game in a row for NIU if it hadn't lost in the MAC Championship Game against Bowling Green. It will be interesting to see if the team can bounce back from that disappointment.

    This will be the second-ever meeting of these two schools on the football field. The Aggies won the first one at home, 42-7, but that was all the way back in 1995.

    This game should be much closer.


    Bowl Game: The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl

    Date: Thursday, December 26, 2013

    Kickoff: 9:30 p.m. ET

    Location: Qualcomm Stadium

    Television: ESPN

    Spread: TBA

Utah State Keys to Victory

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    Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

    As mentioned, the Aggies have a stubborn defense. According to NCAA.com, they are currently ranked No. 12 in overall defense. They are also No. 7 when it comes to points against the defense, allowing only 17.3 points per contest.

    To win this game it is going to take another stellar defensive effort on the part of Utah State.


    The Lynchpin

    First, they must contain the Huskies senior quarterback, Lynch. He is an incredible dual-threat weapon who is not easy to shut down. He has thrown for over 2,600 yards and rushed for nearly 1,900 yards this season. He has also punted a couple of times and caught a touchdown pass.

    The Aggies were torched for 404 yards passing in their loss to Fresno State in the Mountain West Championship Game. They will have to do much better than that against the Huskies. However, even if they limit the pass game of NIU, they will have to stop Lynch from running all over them.


    Be Stingy with Stingily

    Lynch is not the only threat the Huskies have on offense. Junior running back Cameron Stingily has over 1,000 yards on the ground this season. At 6'1" and 244 pounds, Stingily is also quite the arm full to drag down.

    Utah State is going to need to limit what he does, and at the same time, it will be a challenge with much of its focus on Lynch. This is what makes the Huskies so hard to deal with. It is a big reason NIU is ranked No. 5 in overall rushing yards per game.


    Get the Points

    Against Fresno State, the Aggies had just 17 points. The defense did a decent job limiting the Bulldogs to just 24 points on the night. However, to beat Northern Illinois, Utah State will need much more in the way of the scoreboard.

    If the offense cannot get things going against a Huskies defense that has had its own issues this season, it will be a long night in San Diego for the Aggies.

    The Utah State offense will need senior running back Joey DeMartino to have a good game.

    He has rushed for over a 1,000 yards this season, and to get things going in the bowl game, the Aggies will need him to make something happen. If he is able to run, it will open up passing lanes and cause NIU to play on its heels.

Northern Illinois Keys to Victory

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Northern Illinois has a powerful offense. To win in San Diego, it will have to prove it.


    Make Them Pay

    Every time Lynch goes back to pass it causes a problem for opposing defenses. First, he is a good passer, but second if he is flushed out of the pocket, he becomes even more dangerous running the ball.

    If Lynch is able to frustrate the Aggies defense by getting yardage whenever he is flushed from the pocket, the Huskies are going to be in great shape.

    It is a recipe that has worked for years at NIU, and with Lynch playing his final game, you can probably expect the same kind of fire works he has always displayed.


    Make It a Shootout

    Utah State has the best defense in the Mountain West Conference. Part of the reason it is so good is because it has to be. The Aggies are ranked No. 60 in total offense, according to NCAA.com. That is a far cry from the Huskies, who are ranked No. 5 in the same category.

    The bottom line is that if the Huskies can do what they normally do on offense, the Aggies will not be able to keep up. It's just basic math.

    It will certainly be strength against strength, but if history is any indication, the No. 3 offense of Fresno State was enough to beat Utah State. It seems plausible that the Huskies could do the same.


    Make it Personal

    Northern Illinois missed another BCS game by one loss. That loss came by way of a Bowling Green team that is not near as talented.

    However, what the Huskies can't do is let that loss bring them down. They must take motivation from that game and turn it into the right kind of fuel that propels them to victory over the Aggies.

Players to Watch for Utah State

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    Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    Freshman Quarterback Darell Garretson

    Darell Garretson was banged up a bit against Fresno State, but he will most likely play in the bowl game. He has shown some flashes of being a really good quarterback this season after taking over for the injured Chuckie Keeton in early October.

    How he plays against Northern Illinois will be crucial to getting enough points on the board to take home the win.


    Senior Running Back Joey DeMartino

    DeMartino will need to run wild in San Diego. This will give the passing game some space and keep Lynch and his offense on the sideline. He was limited to just over 50 yards against Fresno State, and that caused the offense to struggle.


    Senior Linebacker Jake Doughty

    Jake Doughty leads the team in tackles with an amazing 140 on the season. He also has 35 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception. He will be a key to shutting down Lynch and the Huskies offense.


    Junior Linebacker Zach Vigil

    Zach Vigil is second on the team in tackles with 116 on the season. He also has a couple of sacks and an interception.


    Sophomore Linebacker Kyler Fackrell

    When you watch a Utah State game it seems like Kyler Fackrell is everywhere. He flies around the field, and makes play after play. He has 78 tackles this season with 12 of them for a loss. He also has an impressive five sacks, three quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and an interception.


    All stats are via cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.

Players to Watch for Northern Illinois

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    Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

    Senior Quarterback Jordan Lynch

    As stated before, Lynch is the key to this offense. He will need to have another big game if the Huskies want to bring home victory.

    It will be interesting to see how he matches up with a very good defense. The Aggies don't miss many tackles, and they play with relentless fashion. It will be up to Lynch to rise above it all in an effort to finish his college career on a winning note.


    Junior Running Back Cameron Stingily

    Stingily has only had three games this season with over 100 yards rushing. Which doesn't sound all that impressive. However, he does average 5.6 yards per carry, which is an impressive number.

    He will need to put that average to work against the Aggies. If he is able to run and cause Utah State to focus on slowing him down, Lynch could light it up against a secondary that didn't look that great against Fresno State.


    Junior Wide Receivers Da'Ron Brown and Tommylee Lewis

    These guys are a dynamic pass-grabbing duo. Da'Ron Brown leads the team in receiving yards and touchdowns, while Lewis leads in receptions.

    Tommylee Lewis is also a good kickoff return guy, and both are key weapons for Lynch.


    Senior Defensive Back Jimmie Ward

    Jimmie Ward leads the team in tackles with 88. He also has six interceptions on the season, one of them was returned for a touchdown, and he has broken up eight passes. He also has a sack and 15 tackles for loss.


    Sophomore Linebacker Boomer Mays

    Boomer Mays has 77 tackles, two sacks, 19 tackles for loss and an interception.


    All stats are via cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted. 

What They Are Saying

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    Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    First-year Utah State head coach Matt Wells was very happy to accept the invitation to the 2013 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

    In a statement posted on the team's official website, Wells said, "We gladly accept the invitation to represent Utah State University and the Mountain West Conference in the 2013 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl."

    Wells would go on to say:

    The Poinsettia Bowl has a lot of history and prestige and I know our players will be excited to play in southern California. This bowl game is a great reward for our team and its accomplishments this year, especially down the stretch, and solidifies the strength of this program as we will be playing in our third-straight bowl game for the first time in school history.

    Wells also had a lot of good things to say about his team's opponent:

    We are excited to prepare for a quality Northern Illinois team that had an outstanding season. Our staff has great respect for Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey and the Huskies team. They are very well coached and obviously very talented as they are playing in their sixth-straight bowl game

    While the Huskies might be disappointed that they are not playing in another BCS game, they said all the right things in reference to this game on the team's official website.

    Associate vice president and director of athletics Sean T. Frazier was quoted on the site when he said: 

    We are extremely excited to accept the invitation to play in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. I want to thank Bruce Binkowsky and the entire Poinsettia Bowl Committee and Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher and the staff of the MAC for providing our players and coaches, fans and families with this excellent opportunity. It's going to be a great game and a fantastic experience in a wonderful city.

    Head coach of the Huskies Rod Carey is also quoted about his thoughts on the game. He said:

    I couldn't be happier about taking this team to California to play in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. Everyone has great things to say about the bowl itself, the organization and how the city and community support the game. It's a great reward for a great season by this team, and I know the players will be excited to get back on the field together for their last game.


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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Utah State has quite a defense, but that wasn't enough to shut down Fresno State in the Mountain West Conference Championship Game.

    Northern Illinois has an offense that is nearly as explosive as the Bulldogs. Lynch, however, is a dual-threat quarterback who might be harder for the Aggies to handle than the prolific passer Derek Carr.

    It will no doubt be a great game, but the offensive talent NIU has might be too much for Utah State to handle.

    Look for the Aggies to keep it close until the second half, but look for Lynch to run away with it late.

    Prediction: Utah State 24, Northern Illinois 34