In Northern Illinois’ previous three games, Jordan Lynch hurt teams more with his arm than with his legs.
The NIU senior quarterback ran the ball only 38 times combined against Purdue, Kent State and Akron, compared to 95 passing attempts.
But Lynch’s 316 rushing-yard effort against Central Michigan showed a reversal of recent trends, as Lynch ran on more plays (32) than he threw (30) for the first time since last year’s Mid-American Conference title game victory against Kent State.
It was also the most carries Lynch has had in a game since last season, and the second-most of his career.
So how did Lynch break former NIU quarterback Stacey Robinson’s 23-year-old record for most rushing yards in a game by a Football Bowl Subdivision quarterback? Here’s the breakdown:
Read options (14 carries, 107 yards)
We wrote about how effective NIU’s play-action passing game was against Purdue when Lynch and Co. traveled to West Lafayette, Ind. and proceeded to break the Ross-Ade Stadium record for points scored by an opponent in a 55-24 win.
Against Central Michigan, the Huskies used read-option plays extensively in their run game, either with a tailback in the backfield or wide receivers coming on jet sweeps.
While these types of plays have been used through the year, often ending with handoffs to Stingily or other tailbacks, Lynch kept it 14 times last Saturday, and half of those attempts came on first down.
Stingily’s early-season success, along with the consistent threat of Tommylee Lewis and NIU’s other speedy wideouts, has forced defenses to account for offensive playmakers other than Lynch.
“I think there’s an element that we can turn around and hand off the ball and still be successful running,” NIU coach Rod Carey said. “That makes your read option, your quarterback run game better.”
Quarterback draw (15 carries, 204 yards, 3 touchdowns)
This play was a Lynch staple last year, but we haven’t seen as much of it through the first half of the 2013 season. Lynch sets up in the shotgun – usually with an empty backfield – takes the snap, and bulldozes forward like a running back.
The play made a big-time reappearance against Central Michigan, as NIU dialed it up 15 times and Lynch averaged better than 13 yards per carry. Al three of his runs of 40-plus yards, as well as all three touchdowns, came on designed quarterback draws.
“I think everyone plays us a little different, so you’ve got to see kind of what they’re going to give you on that day,” Carey said. “And so, we didn’t know exactly what they were going to try to take away and what they we’re going to let us do. It ended up that we found a way to run the quarterback, because that’s what they were going to challenge us to do, and we did it.”
Five times, Lynch ran a straight quarterback draw on third down and he converted four of them for first downs, including a 17-yard run on third-and-10 late in the first half.
How much confidence does NIU have in that play? The Huskies ran it three consecutive times in the red zone, resulting in gains of 10 and 3 yards before a 3-yard score to take a 31-17 lead in the fourth quarter.
Scrambling (3 attempts, 5 yards)
Although Lynch is one of the most prolific running quarterbacks in FBS history, he’s rarely scrambled for yardage on broken plays this season.
Through the season, Lynch has shown more patience as a passer, and NIU’s quick-throw offense often has Lynch get rid of the ball with shorter dropbacks.
Against Central Michigan, Lynch tucked the ball and ran only three times after originally dropping back to pass, gaining 5 total yards. All three runs came on third-down plays, but Lynch failed to convert any of them for first downs.
“I feel really comfortable back there in the pocket. ... I think the three sacks [on the season] are on me trying to scramble or doing something,” Lynch said last week. “So I feel really comfortable in the pocket.”
So what can we expect from Lynch the rest of the way?
Last year, Lynch’s rushing attempts increased significantly later in the season against MAC teams. He ran the ball 101 times for 586 yards in the month of November, which includes the final three MAC games in the regular season and the conference title game.
After a poor effort against Akron, NIU’s offensive line continued its solid play at Central Michigan. And with the Huskies losing another running back seemingly each week, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Lynch getting 25-30 carries per game for the rest of the season.