Utah State's bowl goal: Avoid getting Lynched

Dec 26 2013 - 3:33pm

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Associated Press file photo
Northern Illinois is led by quarterback Jordan Lynch, who will make a run at history tonight in the Poinsettia Bowl against Utah State. Lynch already owns the major college record for yards rushing for a quarterback with 1,881. With 119 yards, he can become the first player to rush for 2,000 yards and throw for 2,000.
Associated Press file photo
Northern Illinois is led by quarterback Jordan Lynch, who will make a run at history tonight in the Poinsettia Bowl against Utah State. Lynch already owns the major college record for yards rushing for a quarterback with 1,881. With 119 yards, he can become the first player to rush for 2,000 yards and throw for 2,000.

Matt Wells called tonight's battle against Northern Illinois "the best bowl game in school history."

There's not a lot of USU history to compare it against, since the football program has played in only eight bowl games in its 122 years.

A look at previous Poinsettia Bowl contests, however, shows that the Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year's comments may be significant.

USU (8-5) faces Northern Illinois (12-1) in the 2013 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium (7:30 p.m., ESPN). Among the 16 teams entering the eight previous Poinsettias, five were ranked and 13 had won eight-plus games.

This year, the Huskies are ranked 23rd in the Bowl Championship Series standings and ESPN/USA TODAY Coaches' poll and 24th in the Associated Press poll. The Aggies reached eight wins after ending their regular season on a five-game winning streak.

Tonight, Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch leads an NIU offense ranks ninth in scoring (41.6 points per game). USU, meanwhile, ranks seventh in scoring defense (17.3 ppg).

Lynch rushed for 1,881 yards and passed for 2,676. He also passed for 23 touchdowns and rushed for 22. In each of the past two seasons, Lynch set single-season record for yards rushing by a quarterback in major college football.

The Aggie defense is anchored by a middle force that includes all-conference linebackers Zach Vigil, Jake Doughty and Kyler Fackrell and linebacker-turned-safety Maurice Alexander. Doughty and Vigil, both former walk-ons, lead with 140 and 115 tackles, respectively.

Overall, the contest has been billed as a "classic matchup" between a high-powered offense and a staunch defense. Wells agreed. He said that facing Lynch and the Huskies is "deja vu" to playing Carr and the Bulldogs in terms of their potency, but Lynch is more athletic.

Wells acknowledged to a Poinsettia Bowl official that he was grateful that USU could compete in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl the past two seasons, where the program could be "rejuvenated." But then he said that the Poinsettia Bowl was an improvement.

Before his team traveled to San Diego, he told his team about the bowl's history of great matchups.

"For us, the platform, the history of this bowl, the matchups that have been in this bowl, I think our team recognizes that," he said. "We understand the stage we're on."

ANOTHER CHANCE: When asked how freshman quarterback Darell Garretson would handle the big stage, Wells acknowledged that the bowl provides yet another opportunity for USU to gain a high-profile victory.

He mentioned the Aggies' missed opportunities in contests at Texas A&M (2009), Oklahoma (2010), Auburn (2011) and Wisconsin (2012), and Utah and USC this season. All those teams have played in multiple games in the past decade that will serve as the College Football Subdivision's semifinal or championship games starting next season.

The Aggies also came a touchdown short against 11-win Fresno State Dec. 7 in the Mountain West Conference Championship.

"You know what, we haven't won those games and I recognize that, and (USU players) do, too," Wells said. "But they won't flinch at the lights and the stage and all that."

MIGHTY HUSKIES: NIU is becoming a mid-major power, a Boise State of the Midwest. NIU has been Mid-American Conference Western Division champions for four straight seasons, winning league titles in 2011 and 2012. It has also won at least 11 games in each of the past four seasons.

The Huskies advanced to the MAC Championship this season. Bowling Green beat them 47-27 to end their BCS hopes.

BOWL FESTIVITIES: Many events have accompanied the Aggies' holiday in San Diego. On Monday, the team held a team luncheon at the USS Midway Museum after an 8:20 a.m. practice. Select players from both teams attended the Make-A-Wish Reception at the Omni Hotel. There, San Diego native Joey DeMartino conducted a mock interview with Poinsettia Bowl Honorary Captain Jacob LeBlanc, a "wish kid."

The teams visited Sea World around their Tuesday practices. Five players, including quarterbacks Garretson and Chuckie Keeton, were allowed to play catch with certain marine mammals. "It was a lot like a typical football day with some bad passes and even a few dropped passes by the dolphins," Wells said.

Both teams visited the San Diego Zoo on Wednesday. Only USU practiced on Christmas Day.

OGDEN PROBLEMS: After leaving Ogden via a charter airplane at approximately 7 p.m. Sunday evening following weather and flight delays, the majority of the team arrived at its team hotel at 8:45 p.m., where they were greeted by representatives from the Poinsettia Bowl. Another flight with the rest of USU's travel party left Salt Lake City later that evening and joined the team in San Diego.

GARRETSON OK: Garretson was knocked out of the MW Championship in the fourth quarter, but he's fine now, Wells said.

FAMILY TIME: With 16 married players, the USU camp in San Diego includes several spouses and children -- many more than usual, Wells said.

ALL-AMERICANS: Center Tyler Larsen has been named a second-team All-American by USA Today Sports. Overall, Larsen is one of just 10 offensive linemen at the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level to earn All-America honors from the USA Today. He is also one of six finalists for the Rimington Trophy... Senior cornerback Nevin Lawson was named a third-team All-American by College Sports Madness... Sophomore Fackrell was named a sophomore honorable mention All-American by College Football News.

2014 USU SCHEDULE: In 2014, USU will play 13 regular season games for the first time in school history. Wake Forest will be the first Atlantic Coast Conference team to play in Romney Stadium. USU will also have six home games for the sixth straight season but only 12th time ever.

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