NIU Goes Down in MAC Championship Game
DETROIT — The BCS busters met a MAC machete.
Northern Illinois’ hopes of becoming a back-to-back BCS bowl team were shredded Friday night in the Mid-American Conference championship game with a 47-27 loss to Bowling Green.
The Huskies (12-1, 8-1) saw their back-to-back conference title streak come to an end as well.
NIU’s worst performance of the year came at the worst time.
The Huskies will have to settle for a run-of-the-mill bowl instead of a probable Fiesta Bowl appearance after their explosive offense was finally reigned in by one of the nation’s most effective defenses. Their own defense was picked apart by the Falcons as quarterback Matt Johnson – not Heisman Trophy hopeful Huskie Jordan Lynch – put up big numbers.
Lynch’s slim chances of winning the award slipped away as he threw two interceptions and put up only a fraction of the numbers college football fans have grown accustomed to expecting from him.
Lynch threw for 219 yards on 21 of 40 with one touchdown and two interception. He had only thrown two interceptions in two other games in his NIU career, earlier this season against Kent State and Eastern Illinois.
Averaging 146.2 rushing yards per game and setting the single-game rushing record for a quarterback with 321 yards in his last regular season game, Lynch picked up 126 yards on the 26 carries and scored two touchdowns, although one was rather meaningless with 14 seconds remaining.
The Huskies knew they were going to face a stout defense.
Bowling Green (10-3, 8-1), which won its first MAC title since 2003, entered the game ranked fifth nationally, allowing only 13.8 points per game. The Falcons had given up only 17 points total in the previous four games.
But who knew the Falcons’ offense could be this potent?
For much of the night at Ford Field, the Huskies faced a familiar team. The Falcons looked an awful lot like NIU as they racked up yards, found open receivers and their quarterback put up astronomical numbers.
NIU had only allowed an average of 23.6 points per game but the Falcons were already leading 30-17 at halftime. They had not given up as many points since a 48-41 loss to Central Michigan on Oct. 1, 2011.
Johnson completed 21 of 27 passes for 393 yards and five touchdowns, which broke the MAC championship record, as NIU’s defense fell for the play-action and left receivers alone for open scores.
The Huskies had not given up more than 39 points this season and had allowed only 23.6 points per game through the regular season.
Lynch started the second half with an 8-yard touchdown run to cut Bowling Green’s lead 31-20. But a 52-yard field goal by Bowling Green kicker Tyler Tate and an interception by Lynch that set up a 6-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Travis Green put the Falcons up by 20 points.
The Falcons said they didn’t enter the championship game in hopes of playing spoils but with the sole goal of winning the MAC title. They accomplished both.
The loss snapped a 25-game conference win streak for the Huskies.
But it’s the other doors that closed on them that will make this trip to Detroit hard to forget.