When asked about Bowling Green’s defense, Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey and offensive coordinator Bob Cole drew comparisons to two Big Ten teams.
Cole said the Falcons’ defensive line is “right up there with Iowa’s defensive line, same thing with their linebackers.”
And from what Carey has seen on film, the Falcons’ attitude is comparable to that of Michigan State.
“Everyone likes to talk about the Big Ten with Michigan State’s defense,” he said. “I’ve seen some [Bowling Green] film through crossover games, very similar attitude. They attack. That gives you a point of reference. That’s what makes them tough.”
The question is, will the Falcons be tough enough to stop Northern Illinois?
The Mid-American Conference championship game tonight in Detroit pits one of the nation’s most explosive offenses against one of the most obstructive defenses.
The Huskies, going for their third straight championship in hopes of a repeat BCS bowl bid, will play their fourth different opponent in four straight seasons in the MAC title game.
This season’s opponent may not be so easy to score against, and offense has been NIU’s specialty, of course.
Almost every college football fan knows by now how prolific the No. 14 Huskies’ offense has been in building a 12-0 regular-season record behind senior quarterback Jordan Lynch.
The Huskies rank fourth nationally in total offense with 542.3 yards per game and in rushing offense with 318.9 yards per game. Scoring 42.8 points per game, they rank ninth in the country.
Completely shutting down Lynch and company is something Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson doesn’t even venture to assert as a game plan.
“There are things Northern does that we’ve defended,” he said. “The combination of what they do and how they do it and who they do it with are certainly unique. … They’re a very difficult out. Their numbers and their stats and their record speak for themselves.”
As teams often do when they’re about to face each other for a title, they are heaping praise on their opponents. But NIU’s wariness of the Falcons’ defense is warranted.
Bowling Green (9-3), playing for its first MAC championship since 2003, allows only 13.8 points per game, which ranks fifth nationally, and it gives up just 296.6 yards per game to rank seventh nationally. The Falcons rank in the top 25 by holding their opponents to a 34.4 completion percentage on third downs.
“They’re extremely sound, they’re well coached and they fit in their gaps,” Cole said. “You’re rarely going to find them out of position, and they’re aggressive. Then their defensive backs are good enough where they can play man-to-man on you so they can do a lot of things up front with their front seven. It’s going to be a good challenge for us.”
Bowling Green isn’t exactly a sloth on offense. The Falcons average 34.4 points per game. And the Huskies are no slouches on defense, limiting six of their last seven opponents to 20 or fewer points.
Before his news conference Tuesday, Carey said he had spent 45 minutes analyzing Bowling Green’s third-down package. He came away impressed with the totality of the team’s skill and experience.
“Probably the finest team we’ve played to date,” he said. “All three phases fit perfectly. You can tell they’ve been together as a staff for a while. The systems haven’t changed, they’ve just gotten better.”
NIU (12-0) vs. Bowling Green (9-3)
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Ford Field, Detroit
Line: NIU by 4½