MIAMI – ”We made some plays, too,” Rod Carey said. “We didn’t make enough of ‘em.” Northern Illinois’ new coach neatly summed up the Orange Bowl, for those who missed it. Florida State defeated his upstart team tonight, 31-10. The Huskies kept it close in the first half and briefly made things interesting in the third quarter. But as the final score indicates, the Seminoles were just too much for this year’s unlikely BCS buster. [BOX | RECAP]
Still, consider the tens of thousands of fans and press and staff who attended tonight’s Orange Bowl game, and wonder just how many set foot in Sun Life Stadium expecting a Huskies win. It can’t have been many. We were not among those who came in believing in an upset. But we don’t show up at these things because we know what’s about to happen. We show up because of what might happen.
And Northern Illinois was about the unlikeliest BCS-buster imaginable from Week 2 of the 2012 season on, seeing as the Huskies lost to Iowa at home in Week 1. Our big-game interloper hopes were pinned in September on the likes of Ohio, with its creamy-dreamy schedule and an upset of Penn State to its credit, and Louisiana Tech, with its score-anywhere offense. We didn’t even think NIU would win the MAC. (Of course, we also predicted South Florida would make an appearance in this very game. Isn’t August fun?)
The Huskies did their best to remain under the buster-radar early on, scraping by the likes of Army (one-point victory) and Kansas (seven-point victory), while the Bobcats staged a largely listless season after that first win in Happy Valley. By mid-October, we had (temporarily) written off the idea of seeing any non-AQ squad in a big-money game. So many teams would have to lose, at the same time, to give NIU the required ratings boost. It was so, so unlikely — until it happened, and off we all went to Miami.
Which brings us to tonight, to this place, where Northern Illinois ran out of unlikelihoods. The Huskies were outgained by the Seminoles, 534 yards to 259, after averaging more than 485 yards of offense through 13 games during the regular season. Florida State, unlike so many Huskies opponents this season, seemed both aware of and able to counter quarterback Jordan Lynch’s capabilities as a rushing threat. The nation’s second-ranked defense put a sincere and thorough stifling hold on the MACtion hero, holding him to 44 yards on the ground — a mere fraction of his usual 136 average. (NIU’s coaching staff, it must be said, kept asking Lynch to run well past the point where everybody else in the stadium noticed that strategy did not appear to be working.)
The Huskies were repeatedly, and at times consecutively, victimized by explosive Seminole plays (if you duck into Sun Life Stadium right about now, FSU receiver Kenny Shaw is probably still open), and didn’t do much in the way of capitalizing on FSU errors. Trickery and special teams did the Huskies several favors, but at some point, they were going to have to start just keeping up with the Seminoles. That turning point never materialized.
This was a beat, all told, and a bad one, and not a particularly pleasant game to watch. And the Huskies are taking it as a beat, make no mistake.
“There’s not really too much to talk about,” said NIU wide receiver Tommylee Lewis after the game. “We came out and played hard. FSU was just a better team today.”
“All the credit goes to Florida State,” said Lynch, who called the Seminoles’ defense “the best we’ve faced all year.”
“They were always in the right spot at the right time, it seemed like,” Lynch said. Kind of like the Huskies as a whole, in those waning weeks of November.
So no gleaming bowl of oranges for the Huskies tonight. Nothing really worth referring to, cringing, as a “moral victory.” But we do wonder what that nameless Orange Bowl rep thinks of a MAC team coming in, under an assistant-turned-head coach, and putting on a more competitive Orange Bowl than we saw last year, or the year before. If there’s any solace to be had in DeKalb tonight, maybe it’s that.
Or maybe some cold comfort lies in fatalism. It was so unlikely that any non-AQ team would bust into the big games, halfway through this season. It was so unlikely that NIU was even here. After being handed break upon break as the rankings shuffled at the close of the regular season, the Huskies couldn’t make their own luck in Miami. Sooner or later, something likely was bound to happen instead.