Poinsettia Bowl preview: Utah State vs. NIU
Utah State (8-5, 7-1 MWC) vs. Northern Illinois (12-1, 8-0 MAC)
December 26, 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Utah State Players to Watch:
Darell Garretson, QB—Star quarterback Chuckie Keeton was knocked out for the season with a knee injury back in October, and Garretson has done a respectable job in his place, going 5-1 as a starter. However, he went down with a severe concussion against Fresno State and is questionable for the bowl game.
Jake Doughty, LB—The clear leader of an impressive Utah State defense, Doughty has compiled 140 tackles (11.5 for loss) and two sacks. His performance will have a major impact in the game.
Northern Illinois Players to Watch:
Jordan Lynch, QB—Well, duh. Who else did you expect? Lynch needs 119 rushing yards to become the first player in NCAA history to record 2,000 passing and 2,000 rushing yards in a season. This is his last collegiate game—and probably the last of his career as a quarterback—so it’s worth watching.
Jimmy Ward, CB—Ward was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award for good reason. His 77 tackles lead the team, and his six interceptions are tied for the second-most in the nation. Ward also has 14 passes defended, so Utah State should probably stay away from his side of the field.
Utah State Key to Victory:
Lock down Jordan Lynch’s running lanes. If you watched the MAC Championship, you saw a fierce Bowling Green game plan to contain Lynch’s running abilities and force him to throw the ball. Instead of his usual 7.1 yards per carry, Lynch was held to 4.8, causing him to attempt 40 passes. Utah State’s chances skyrocket if Lynch is forced to put the ball in the air, as it can rely on its 12th-ranked defense to take control.
Northern Illinois Key to Victory:
Put pressure on Utah State’s quarterback. Whether it be Garretson or third-stringer Craig Harrison under center, neither have much experience are prone to make ill-advised decisions when the pocket collapses. The Aggies have failed to protect the QB all season, allowing 31 sacks (No. 89 overall) and NIU loves to put on a pass rush.
Line: Northern Illinois (-1.5)
Prediction: Chuckie Keeton’s absence wasn’t felt through a five-game stretch when Utah State played a lower tier Mountain West schedule, but it did against Fresno State and it will in the Poinsettia Bowl. The Aggies have never won back-to-back bowls and I don’t think they have the offensive firepower to do so against NIU.
Northern Illinois 34, Utah State 19
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