By Ivan Carter
SAN DIEGO – Northern Illinois had the record-setting Heisman-trophy candidate at quarterback and has piled up bowl appearances along with wins in recent seasons.
None of that mattered Thursday night during a frustrating 21-14 loss to Utah State in the Poinsettia Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium.
Jordan Lynch, who finished third in the Heisman Trophy race, fumbled once, threw a third-quarter interception that set up a Utah State’s go-ahead score, and generally looked nothing like the Superman who dominated opponents so often the last two seasons.
The Huskies averaged 41.6 points per game on the season, but the 14 points were by far a season low. The previous low mark came in a crushing 47-27 loss to Bowling Green in the MAC championship game, a loss which prevented the Huskies from making a second straight BCS bowl game appearance.
The Huskies, who had hoped to finish with a program-best 13th win, struggled in other areas as well.
Punter Tyler Wedel shanked his first attempt of the night for a paltry 17 yards, and kicker Matthew Sims missed field goals of 37 and 29 yards.
, offensive lineman struggled to handle a swarming Utah State defense, and coach Rod Carey’s decision to go for it on a fourth-and-3 late in the first half backfired when Lynch was stuffed short of the first-down marker.
Defensively, the Huskies struggled to get off of blocks and allowed several momentum-swinging runs when Utah State runners shook off initial contact. The defense had a similar problem in the Bowling Green loss.
NIU’s best chance to take control came and went early in the quarter after an a tipped-pass interception by defensive tackle Ken Bishop gave Lynch and the offense a first-and-10 from the Utah State 13 with the Aggies leading 13-7.
However, three plays produced one yard and Sims then missed the short goal. Utah State then put together its best drive, a 17-play, 80-yard clock-eating masterpiece of power and precision which ate up valuable game clock time and ended with a Joey DeMartino touchdown run.
Utah State safety Brian Suite was the most impressive player on the field, making several tackles to go along with the interception and a fumble recovery.