The Northern Illinois University Huskies offense could not get untracked against Utah State in the 2013 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl game and, despite a valiant effort by the NIU defense, the Huskies fell to the Aggies 21-14 Thursday night at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
With its second straight loss, NIU ended the season with a 12-2 record while Utah State finished 9-5. The Huskies lost back-to-back games for the first time since suffering losses to Kansas and Wisconsin in consecutive games in 2011.
The loss ended the careers of 16 Huskie seniors who comprised the winningest senior class in school history, led by record-setting quarterback Jordan Lynch and All-America safety Jimmie Ward. NIU head coach Rod Carey noted the contributions the 2013 senior class made to building the Northern Illinois program.
“This is a tough way to end a great season,” Carey said. “I’m proud of our seniors. They left their mark on this university and this football team. The credit goes to Utah State.”
Lynch completed 20-of-35 passes for 216 yards and one touchdown and ran the ball 18 times for 39 yards and a score. NIU had more first downs (19-17), more passing yards (216-121) and more total yards (315-289) than the Aggies.
The statistics were deceiving, though, because USU was able to shut down Lynch and the Huskies in the second half.
After halftime, the Huskies tallied only five first downs, 21 rushing yards on 13 attempts, and 60 passing yards on 6-of-17 passing. NIU went three-and-out on three of its five possessions in the half, with only a successful conversion on a fake punt preventing four consecutive three-and-outs.
“On offense, the errors started to snowball on us [in the second half] and we weren’t able to move the ball the way we have,” Carey said. “We probably missed some throws in the second half.”
Lynch said Utah State grabbed the momentum after he threw an interception on the first play of the half and the Aggies did not allow the Huskies to get it back.
“They had all the momentum in the second half,” Lynch said. “We looked for someone to make a play and get us going, and there wasn’t anyone who could do it, including me. They played a straight cover one, packed the box and were well-coached and played smart football.”
In addition to the offensive woes, NIU had several special teams miscues as kicker Mathew Sims missed a pair of field goals – from 37 yards in the first quarter and 29 in the fourth – and punter Tyler Wedel had a 17-yard punt in the early going.
The Huskie defense, meanwhile, kept Northern Illinois in the game, even with their backs against the wall. After Wedel’s punt gave Utah State the ball on the NIU 29, the Huskies forced USU to attempt a 52-yard field goal that missed. When a Lynch fumble gave the Aggies field position at the NIU 46 in the first quarter, the defense stopped USU at the 14 and forced a 31-yard field goal.
“The defense played well enough for us to win,” Carey said. “[Utah State] had the one drive in the fourth quarter but that was more an issue of being out there all night. Overall, there’s no way any of this goes on the defense. Our defense played their rear ends off.”
In addition to Ward’s interception, senior defensive tackle Ken Bishop recorded his second interception of the season, giving the Huskies field position at the Utah State 14 early in the fourth quarter.
After two plays netted just two yards, Sims missed from 29 yards.
Utah State’s first touchdown came off of Lynch’s interception and the final touchdown was scored after NIU’s third straight offensive three-and-out. The Aggies grinded out a 16-play, 80-yard drive that took 7:19 off the clock in the fourth quarter that looked to put the game away.
NIU came back with a late score as Lynch connected with Juwan Brescacin on a 15-yard scoring pass with 1:44 left in the game to pull the Huskies within seven at 21-14. However, Wedel’s onside kick attempt was recovered by Utah State, ending the comeback hopes and season.
The Huskies set multiple single season offensive records and the offense, not to mention Lynch, will go down as one of the best ever at Northern Illinois as will the entire team.