DEKALB, Ill. – The University at Buffalo watched all the game films. The Bulls developed a plan of attack. They believed they had sound ideas on how to contain Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, the most versatile offensive force in the Mid-American Conference.
The Bulls might as well have spent the week trying to decipher ‘the how?’ of a David Blaine illusion. No matter how much time is devoted to the task it still messes with the mind. And Lynch and his offense certainly had UB heads spinning in circles Saturday afternoon while orchestrating a resounding 45-3 victory on a gray and dreary Homecoming Day at Huskie Stadium.
Working zone reads to perfection, Lynch ran between the tackles, outside the tackles, around Bulls and through Bulls. He scored two touchdowns early and, in a show of diversity, passed for two more late. He totaled 232 yards through the air and ran for 129. He was true to form. If there was such a thing as the mid-major Heisman, he’d be no less than a finalist and likely the winner.
“We saw coming in that he’s got great feet, he’s a fast quarterback, he doesn’t go down easy,” said UB defensive end Colby Way. “One of our big emphasis this week was on just bringing him down, just playing him. We based our defense around him. We just struggled bringing him down.
“He broke one of my tackles too, and I didn’t think he was going to be that hard to bring down.”
While Lynch toyed with Buffalo’s defense, the Huskies (6-1, 3-0) suffocated UB’s running game – ensuring the Bulls would remain winless all-time on the road against West Division teams and winless on the road against anybody in more than two years.
The Huskies won the line of scrimmage and, with strong safety support, allowed just 74 net yards to the nation’s 23rd-ranked rushing team with not a single gain longer than 16.
The Bulls were again without starting running back Branden Oliver, who sat out his third straight game with a knee injury.
“They were very determined to stop the run,” said Bulls center Trevor Sales. “I’m got going to say we got out-physicaled because I don’t believe in that because we’re a very tough offensive line across the board. One thing I will say schematically, they definitely beat us in some areas and that’s on us as an offensive line.”
UB hit back with a field goal after NIU’s opening TD drive, but never connected on another punch against a team that has won 19 straight at Huskie Stadium – the third-longest home winning streak in the country. The size of UB’s early deficit forced the Bulls to the air 49 times. Starter Alex Zordich was 18 of 29 for 177 yards with two interceptions. Joe Licata took over late in the third quarter and was 9 of 20 for 86 yards. Each was sacked twice.
NIU opened the game with one of its textbook marches, a 75-yard, 13-play drive keyed by the running of Lynch. The Huskies’ star picked up 5 yards on a third-and-1 and 7 yards on a fourth-and-1, and his between-the-tackles plunges proved the perfect setup for the touchdown play, a 12-yard reserve by wideout Da’Ron Brown. Lynch feigned another burst up the gut before flipping a pitch to Brown running against pursuit. He quickly gained the corner and found the end zone 5:07 into the game.
UB countered with a field goal drive aided by two major penalties against NIU. The first, a personal foul, was called on a third-and-9 incompletion. The second, a 15-yard facemask, negated a run for a loss. That infraction moved UB to the 12, where the drive stalled as Zordich overthrew an open Devon Hughes (nine catches, 105 yards) at the end zone sideline. Patrick Clarke kicked a 28-yard field goal, making it 7-3 with 3:21 left in the opening quarter.
A fake punt set up NIU for a 14-3 lead. Short man Luke Eakes took the snap and ran off the left side for 31 yards. Lynch ripped off an 18-yard scamper on the next play, and the TD drive culminated with Akeem Daniels going wide right on fourth-and-1 as the Bulls committed to Lynch on the zone option.
Offensively, the Huskies seemed invincible by this point. Whatever the situation, they were finding ways to move the chains. The Bulls knew everything originated with Lynch, but where it would go from there was anyone’s guess. Facing a fourth-and-2 from the UB 4, the Huskies pressed on and got the touchdown to make it 21-3 when Lynch kept this time, darting up the middle 6:59 before the half.
The Huskies weren’t through. Two Buffalo streaks ended when Clarke missed right on a 25-yard field-goal attempt. It was his first miss in 11 career attempts and Buffalo’s first failed trip to the red zone. The Huskies came back with another 4-yard TD run by Lynch just before halftime.
“I’m not numb at all,” said UB coach Jeff Quinn. “I’m extremely angry. I’m aggravated. ... That’s nowhere near the kind of football I expected out of our team.”