No. 24 Northern Illinois hardly looked like its BCS-busting self in Thursday night's 21-14 loss to Utah State in the Poinsettia Bowl, and much of that was due to the Aggies' defense. Utah State stared down Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch and stifled the Huskies' normally prolific offense, claiming a second straight bowl victory for the first time in program history.
Lynch is known for his offense, but on Thursday the senior hurt Northern Illinois' chances with turnovers. Utah State scored 10 of its 21 points off two Lynch turnovers: A fumble early in the first quarter and an interception on the first play of the second half. Meanwhile the Aggies' defense, which came in allowing only 17.3 points per game (seventh in the country), kept Lynch from morphing into his usual offensive machine. The quarterback completed only 20-of-35 passes for 216 yards, one touchdown and one pick. He also rushed for a mere 39 yards alongside another score. For the second straight game, Lynch looked a little too human for the Huskies to thrive.
Even with the offensive difficulties, Northern Illinois still had a chance to take the lead early in the fourth quarter. Facing a 13-7 hole, NIU's Ken Bishop picked off quarterback Darell Garretson with 12:22 left to play at the Huskies' own 13-yard line. But Northern Illinois couldn't capitalize on the Aggies' own miscue. The Huskies' offense moved only a single yard after the interception, and kicker Mathew Sims missed a 29-yard field goal to turn the ball over. Utah State drained more than seven minutes off the clock on an ensuing 80-yard touchdown drive to take a 21-7 lead.
Lynch helped NIU score and close the deficit to 21-14 with 1:45 to play, but the Aggies' recovered the Huskies' onside kick attempt to seal the win. Several weeks ago, few would have expected the Poinsettia Bowl to end this way. Utah State lost starting quarterback Chuckie Keeton to an ACL tear on Oct. 12, and four other offensive starters went down with injuries this season. Meanwhile, Northern Illinois was coming off a BCS berth and looked poised for another shot at a BCS bowl until the Huskies fell to Bowling Green in the MAC title game. Now Lynch ends his collegiate career with two forgettable performances in a row while Utah State puts the cap on an injury-plagued nine-win season in head coach Matt Wells' first year in Logan.