The 31-10 loss by Northern Illinois was not the finest hour in the history of BCS Busters, but neither was it the most embarrassing. For all the talk before and after January 1 about how undeserving the Huskies were of their spot in the Orange Bowl, the nightcap on New Year’s Day was as much an indictment of the Seminoles as it was of the Huskies.
The man who had guided NIU to this lofty perch, Dave Doeren, was interviewed in the stands as he took a day off from his new job at NC State to see his former team become the first MAC representative to reach the Promised Land of BCS dreams. Even Urban Meyer knew the value of a BCS appearance, staying at Utah in 2004 to coach the Utes to a landmark 35-7 victory over Pittsburgh as the original BCS Buster before SEC-eding to Florida. But Doeren left Rod Carey in his place, the leader of the ship for the first time.
Carey is a nice-enough guy tasked with the impossible. He began the season as Northern Illinois’ offensive line coach, and it showed in his play selection throughout the night. Dynamic QB Jordan Lynch was bottled up both by a Florida State defense that did everything short of spiking their opponents in an attempt to physically maul the Huskies offense, finishing 15-of-41 passing for 176 yards with a touchdown and a backbreaking 3rd-quarter interception.
He also ran for just 44 yards on 23 carries. It didn’t help that most of those carries were bullheaded barrels forward into the trenches. The running plays were called by a man with far too much confidence in his undersized offensive line to be the difference makers in a straight-ahead ground attack.
Ultimately, though, NIU was still in this game despite the offensive decrepitude. Carey at least showed the gumption to call some surprises in addition to all his plodding plunge signals. There was the pooch punt by Lynch that the Huskies downed at the FSU 5. There was the punt fake which Desroy Maxwell turned into 35 yards and a first down.
And then there was the onside kick. After holding Florida State to a field goal on their opening drive of the second half, preventing a touchdown despite the Seminoles setting up at one point on the NIU 2, the Huskies turned around and engineered a drive reminiscent of all their firepower throughout 2012. Lynch completed 3-of-4 on the drive for 66 yards, including the 11-yard touchdown strike to Martel Moore. He rushed twice, picking up 26 yards and a first down.
Pulling within 17-10 after the extra point was good, Carey displayed major cajones in what transpired next. Fooling the Seminoles thoroughly, kickoff specialist Tyler Wedel drove toward the ball and planted. Tapping a bouncing roller on a ten-yard path, he expertly put the kick where only his teammate could recover it.
Now it appeared as though luck might actually be on Northern Illinois’ side. Momentum turning in Cinderella’s favor, Lynch continued to drive the offense downfield. Tommylee Lewis was catching Lynch’s passes and picking up yards on the sweep. Then Lynch started to feel the pressure on the edge of the red zone, scrambling right, right, right toward the edge of the sideline… and then firing a pass not out of bounds but instead trying to force it to a teammate. Instead it was Terrence Brooks nabbing the ball for FSU and returning the interception 20 yards.
The defense stiffened, preventing any Seminole points through the rest of the third quarter. E.J. Manuel ran it in on the quarterback keeper to start the 4th, but as momentum continued to shift a two-touchdown lead hardly seemed insurmountable. At least it seemed within reach until the officiating crew first incorrectly ruled fumble on the field, then not only upheld but “confirmed” the illegitimate ruling after replay.
Despite Da’Ron Brown’s knee firmly planted in the Sun Life Stadium turf before the ball was stripped, the SEC referee gave Florida State the football. Instead of getting to watch their offense drive with the chance to pull within one score, a dejected Huskies defense instead conceded the final points of the game two plays later. It was instructive as to the amount of luck FSU needed all game long.
Yes, luck. Florida State mugged NIU’s offense all game long, repeatedly hitting Lynch and other Huskies after the whistle. The officials held onto their flags as several personal fouls went noticed by a nationwide audience and the announcers but invisible to zebras. And then the phantom fumble that wasn’t (yet was, officially, somehow) only iced the cake for the Seminoles.
In reality, Northern Illinois came to Miami having already won their prize just by making the show. That they went bust against a team that repeatedly has the talent (if not the discipline, or consistency) to play for the national title year after year is no indictment of the Huskies. NIU acquitted themselves on a grand stage, and return to DeKalb without any reason to hang their heads.
Florida State, on the other hand, required bush-league tactics and a healthy dose of favors from the refs to emerge with what will go down on paper as a lopsided defeat. But for those who witnessed the contest, the underwhelming performance by the Seminoles is indicative of the fact that, in 2012, the MAC champion is damn near as deserving of a BCS berth as the ACC champion.
Against a neophyte coach, with every conceivable size and speed advantage, and enjoying the favor of the officials, Florida State still managed to play down to their competition. Instead of puffing up their chests and feeling vindicated about their rants against NIU’s inclusion in the party, the Herbstreits of the college football punditry ought to look at one of their perennially-anointed with objective eye. They’ll find a team that was no more deserving of an Orange Bowl berth than the pugnacious Huskies that gave them a New Year’s battle for four full quarters and looked better in defeat than the Seminoles did in victory.
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