DETROIT -- The Ford Field grounds crew already has begun scrubbing the MAC championship game logo at midfield. It looks like an uncoordinated giant has been finger-painting with too much purple and blue. After all, there’s no time to waste to restore this place before Sunday’s Bears-Lions clash.
But the memories of this game are going to last a long time for NIU. Just as in 2005 against Akron, the Huskies surrendered a long touchdown pass in the final minute to lose the MAC title game.
How did NIU lose despite being an 18-point favorite? Let’s run down a quick checklist:
1) MISSED BOMBS
In the second quarter, Northern Illinois had two receivers behind the defense for long passes. Nathan Palmer dropped a touchdown pass from Chandler Harnish, then backup QB Jordan Lynch came up short on a long one to Willie Clark.
“That’s 14 points,” said NIU coach Jerry Kill. “That’s two plays right there. It comes down to about 7 or 8 plays.”
2) NO BREAD-AND-BUTTER
As evidenced by NIU’s multiple deep passes Friday night, Miami’s defense sold out to stop the run and MAC MVP Chad Spann. The senior finished with 17 carries for 54 yards. He failed to score for the first time since the season opener against Iowa State.
Quarterbacks Harnish and Lynch combined for 57 rushing yards (just 29 after you throw in the sacks). That’s well below their average. As a matter of fact, NIU entered the game seventh nationally in rushing (279.2 yards per game) and finished with 92.
“They stopped the run a little bit better than I thought they would,” Harnish said.
3) NO LUCK
Down the stretch, Miami redshirt freshman QB Austin Boucher struggled to solve NIU’s variety of defenses. The Huskies kept dropping linemen in their zone-blitz package and, on three straight plays, the dropping D-Lineman knocked down the pass.
The third one in that streak came on Miami’s winning drive. Boucher had thrown 5 straight incompletions and taken a sack before he rolled out on fourth-and-20 from Miami’s 38. He threw too short for his intended receiver, but LB Tyrone Clark tipped the pass an extra 10 yards to a waiting receiver for a 31-yard gain to NIU’s 31.
Two plays later, Miami had its game-winning touchdown. NIU blitzed cornerback Rashaan Melvin, but the safety didn’t rotate over to pick up Melvin’s man. Boucher had his easiest throw of the night. NIU blitzed because defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys wanted to push Miami out of field-goal range. The RedHawks’ kicker had a season-long of 48 yards on his resume.
“Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good,” Boucher said.