Game Scout: Northern Illinois vs. Bowling Green

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

KICKOFF: Friday, 8 p.m. ET
SITE: Ford Field, Detroit, Mich.
SERIES: Bowling Green leads 10-7 (last meeting, 2011, 45-14 NIU).
BCS RANKINGS: Northern Illinois 14th, Bowling Green unranked

Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey has instructed his players to keep a lid on their mouths heading into Friday's Mid-American Conference Championship game battle with Bowling Green at Ford Field in Detroit. Even though the Huskies seemed headed toward another shocking BCS bowl bid -- likely the Fiesta Bowl -- and senior quarterback Jordan Lynch is gaining steam toward an invite to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York, Carey doesn't want to have any distractions in NIU's quest for a third straight MAC championship.
Carey has his players off limits to reporters until the day before the MAC title game.
"I'm trying to create a situation where we have no reason to say we didn't focus on Bowling Green," Carey said. "There are so only so many things you can control and so many you can't."
Lynch's comments before last season's Orange Bowl served as motivation for Florida State. However, it's more likely FSU's defense, which was filled with future NFL players, had more to do with the Seminoles keeping Lynch's numbers down and beating the Huskies than his comments.
That loss to Florida State is the only blemish on NIU's record since Iowa beat the Huskies in the 2012 opener at Soldier Field. The Huskies (12-0) enter Friday's MAC title game ranked No. 14 in the most recent BCS poll. A win over Bowling Green most likely sends NIU to a BCS bowl, particularly since Fresno State lost to San Jose State last week.
Lynch broke his own single-game FBS rushing mark for a quarterback with 321 yards rushing and three touchdowns against Western Michigan. The Huskies have used the extended break to rest some players and hopefully get some players back that missed the WMU contest.
Carey expects wide receiver Tommylee Lewis back for the Bowling Green contest. Lewis has missed the last two games with a toe injury. Getting the speedy and productive Lewis back in the lineup to play on the turf at Ford Field brings another dimension for the Huskies.
By the numbers, the Falcons have the best defense in the Mid-American Conference. Bowling Green won the East Division title by winning at Buffalo last Friday. The Falcons are ranking fifth in the country in scoring defense, allowing 13.8 points per game. Last season, Bowling Green allowed 16.8 points per contest. Bowling Green's defensive line is one of its strengths, holding teams in check running the ball, while an experienced group of secondary members in BooBoo Gates, Ryland Ward and Cameron Truss headline the back seven.
Carey admitted the Huskies have a lot riding on the line in Friday's game.
"We can't control anything else -- all we can control is the MAC championship," Carey said. "As far as pressure goes, any time you're in a championship game, there's pressure."
The NIU defense must contend with Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson and wide receiver Shaun Joplin. Johnson is a hot-and-cold quarterback, capable of big games or possible tough outings. Joplin is a steady force, catching a career-high 148 yards and a touchdown in the 24-7 win at Buffalo. He had five catches for 139 yards in the second half.
Currently, bowl reps from the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar Bowls are expected to attend Friday's MAC championship game in Detroit.
Bowling Green head coach Dave Clawson doesn't have the BCS on his mind. He knows slowing the Huskies means containing Lynch.
"He is another incredible talent," Clawson said. "He certainly is a great player. He does it every single week."
While lacking an outstanding individual talent, Bowling Green has done things by committee -- a very strong committee. Over the past four games, the Falcons have allowed just one touchdown while outscoring the opposition 176-17.
The Falcons are strong enough to give the Huskies a good test. Bowling Green leads the conference in 15 different team statistical categories. And it's not all defensive stuff -- Bowling Green leads the MAC in third down conversion percentage, fewest fumbles lost, yards per completion, time of possession, and fewest turnovers lost. But it is on defense where the Falcons really flex their might, making the top 10 of FBS football in a number of statistical categories, including fourth down defense, first down defense, fumbles recovered, least passing yards allowed, punt return defense, punt returns, red zone defense, scoring defense, team passing efficiency defense, time of possession, and total defense.

--Quarterback Jordan Lynch was named the MAC West Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for a career-high 321 yards and three touchdowns against Western Michigan. Lynch broke his own single-game rushing mark for a quarterback. He scored on touchdown runs of 29, 36 and 37 yards and averaged 11.9 yards per rush.
--NIU's offensive line has played a key part in Lynch's big totals the last two years. For the sixth time this season in 12 games, the NIU offensive line did not give up a sack in a game.
--George Rainey had a blocked field goal in NIU's win over Western Michigan. Rainey has two of the team's three blocked kicks this season.

--The Falcons are more of a passing team than running one. They average 209.7 yards per game. NIU's defense has to contain Travis Greene, who leads the team in rushing with 1,422 yards and averages 6.1 yards per carry. Greene's not a home run threat, with his longest run of the season at 33 yards.
--Quarterback Matt Johnson has completed 63.2 percent of his passes for 2,802 yards and 18 touchdowns, but thrown seven interceptions. Johnson likes to spread the ball around to several different players. NIU's defense must pressure Johnson and force him into making tough decisions that could lead to a mistake.

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