DEKALB, Ill. — It looked to be the passing of an era when Northern Illinois said goodbye to its senior class at the end of last year’s MAC championship season. Quarterback Chandler Harnish was departing. So too was the nucleus of an offensive line that helped make Harnish an elite dual-threat QB. How could the Huskies suffer such losses and still maintain the momentum of consecutive 11-win seasons?
As it turns out, there was a simple answer: Jordan Lynch.
Although he toiled as Harnish’s backup, Lynch received valuable experience as a freshman and sophomore. At first he entered games near the end of lopsided victories, such as when he ran 90 yards for a touchdown in a 45-14 conquest of the University at Buffalo two years ago. Last season he was utilized more extensively, running 45 times as an alternative to Harnish. This season the show’s all his and if there’s been any drop off from Harnish, it’s impossible to discern.
UB’s challenge today at Huskie Stadium is to slow a quarterback who statistically ranks among the nation’s elite (3:30 p.m., Radio 1230). He’s run 114 times for 789 yards and nine TDs with a long of 88. He’s completed 61 percent of his passes against three interceptions. Supported by a young but accomplished offensive line, Lynch has led the Huskies to their best start since 2003 (5-1, 2-0) and extended NIU’s home-field winning streak to 15 games.
“We have to stop their quarterback,” said UB head coach Jeff Quinn. “Jordan Lynch is an outstanding football player. ... Just look at what he’s been able to do. He’s primarily their offense. He’s their leading rusher, leading thrower. He’s the guy we have to stop.”
So much attention was given Harnish few took notice that Lynch was maturing in his shadow and reaping widespread benefits from the experience he was collecting.
“I think it helped him a lot, just from a butterfly standpoint, being able to be out there and having done it a lot,” said Dave Doeren, NIU’s second-year head coach. “He was kind of the wildcat guy here for two years to take some hits off Chandler and did a nice job with it. I think everyone didn’t think he could throw just because they never asked him to, but just being on the field during the game and being asked to be part of the game plan each week I think prepared him for being the guy.”
UB (1-4, 0-2) hasn’t won away from home in more than two years and is playing on the road for the third straight week. The string began with a seven-point loss at UConn, a game the Bulls rallied to make close, and continued with a seven-point loss at Ohio in which an early 14-0 lead vanished with a special teams breakdown and turnovers.
“Those are the things that held us back,” Quinn said.
“Yeah, we lost the game but it’s getting closer and closer,” said Bulls offensive tackle Gokhan Ozkan. “We’re very close to getting over that hump.”
The Bulls figure to again be without starting running back Branden “Bo” Oliver, who wasn’t practicing at mid-week. True freshman Devin Campbell made his first start last week and ripped Ohio for 160 yards to fuel a 313-yard ground attack.
The game plan is simple: run the football and keep Lynch from doing the same.
“That’s really where our focus is, stop Lynch,” Quinn said. “He’s good with the option, the zone reads, all that kind of stuff.”
It’s just like Harnish never left.
“I think they’re both very similar,” Quinn said. “Very productive, very explosive, tremendous competitors. They have a nice scheme that fits their talents and what they want to do. It’s going to be a very similar situation.”