Friday, December 28, 2012
NoleNation Q&A: Previewing FSU-NIU
By David M. Hale
Florida State has a chance to win its first Orange Bowl since 1996, and most fans are viewing this year's game as an easy victory for the Seminoles, who take on the BCS busters from Northern Illinois.
On paper, it's a clear mismatch. The Huskies -- champions of the Mid-American Conference -- only played two teams from an automatic-qualifier conference, losing to 4-8 Iowa and beating 1-11 Kansas. Florida State is bigger, faster and stronger. But in BCS bowls, the mid-majors have a history of successfully sneaking up on their more nationally known competition.
So, to see if Northern Illinois is capable of pulling off a surprise, we checked in with Huskies beat writer Steve Nitz of the DeKalb Daily Chronicle for some insight.
Jordan Lynch has combined for 43 touchdowns rushing and passing and will present a challenge for Florida State's defense.
NoleNation: We've heard plenty of talk about Jordan Lynch, and the numbers certainly speak for themselves -- 24 passing TDs, 19 rushing -- but FSU fans haven't seen a ton of him. What makes him so effective, and is his skill set one that could translate well against a bigger, more athletic defense like Florida State's?
Steve Nitz: Jordan Lynch is a great runner, and he's a threat to break off a long touchdown run every single time he touches the ball. However, he can throw effectively as well, something he may very well have to do against Florida State with how well the Seminoles stop the run. Florida State's defense will be the best unit he has seen all year, and I do think Lynch will be able to run the ball well. We'll just see how well his offensive line blocks for him.
NN: Obviously Lynch has been the focal point in the run up to the Orange Bowl, but how good is this NIU defense? Who are some players Florida State fans should be watching for?
Nitz: I've said it all season, this group has been very underrated. Lynch and the offense get a ton of credit, and deservedly so, but the Huskies' defense is leaps and bounds better than it was a year ago.
The Huskies can pressure the QB with players such as defensive ends Alan Baxter (9.5 sacks) and Sean Progar (8.5 sacks). I also think NIU is strong, although undersized, at the linebacker spot with Tyrone Clark (82 tackles) and Jamaal Bass (76 tackles) on the outside.
Cornerback Rashaan Melvin led the Mid-American Conference with 17 pass break-ups, and safety Jimmie Ward led the Huskies with 90 tackles.
NN: Here in Tallahassee, the shakeup on the defensive coaching staff has been a major topic of debate. How has the coaching change been handled at NIU, and how much might it affect the product on the field -- if at all?
Nitz: The transition has gone pretty smooth for NIU, all things considered. Sure, [former head coach] Dave Doeren is at NC State, but the players are familiar with Rod Carey. Currently, there are four assistants who will join Doeren in Raleigh, but they'll all be coaching the bowl game.
The players liked the fact that Carey was promoted. But he's still never been a head coach before, so we'll see how he handles things on the big stage.
NN: What's the mind-set with this NIU team and around campus? Has all the negative backlash about their inclusion in a BCS game been a motivator? Is there a legitimate belief that they can go toe-to-toe with FSU?
Nitz: The mood around campus has obviously been a lot different. Orange Bowl gear in nearly every store you walk into, restaurants wishing NIU good luck on their signs. I've even seen a few oranges laying around the parking lot at my apartment complex.
I do think this team is motivated by all the negative talk from the national media, and NIU certainly believes it can hang with the Seminoles.
NN: BCS busters have a relatively solid track record in these games, so upsets certainly are possible. What are the 2-3 things that need to happen for NIU to pull off a surprise win?
Nitz: The main thing (in this game, and pretty much every game) is for NIU to win the turnover battle, which they've done a good job of this season. Lynch has done a good job taking care of the ball, and I could see EJ Manuel turning it over a couple of times for FSU. If the Huskies can stay mistake-free and get a couple turnovers, I think they'll have a shot to win.
Many thanks to Steve for his insight. You can follow all his Orange Bowl content HERE or follow him on Twitter at @SNitz_DDC.