No. 23 Northern Illinois Huskies (10-1, 8-1) vs the Utah State Aggies (8-5, 7-2)
Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA
When: Thursday, December 26th, 8:30 CST
The NIU Huskies will be looking for some redemption in San Diego after the traumatic MAC Championship loss that Bowling Green handed them to ruin their perfect season yet again (remember 2003?!)
A big part of this game is going to be motivation. Both of these squads want to wash the bad taste out of their mouths after their respective title games. NIU had BCS hopes and after those have been squandered will they still have the motivation to win this game? The Huskie camp says yes but you really have to be wondering what is going through the mind of these college players.
NIU is 0-1 all-time vs Utah State with a 7-47 loss in 1995, just a year before Joe Novak became head coach. Also NIU previously played in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2006 where they got crushed 7-37 against an underrated TCU squad. Utah State has played in the Idaho Potato Bowl the past two years beating Toledo 41-15 last season.
This game should be extremely competitive as the Huskies opened up as a -2 point favorite are now a +1 point underdog. Go figure.
Utah State Offense
Utah State's offense is fairly balanced, ranking in at #55 in passing offense and #54 in rushing offense.
The biggest star on the Aggies this season was QB Chuckie Keaton, who wowed crowds early on in the season with his playmaking ability on the ground. Unfortunately, he went down in a pretty bad knee injury vs BYU seven games into the season.
His backup freshman Darell Garretson took over and has led this team to five straight victories until losing to Fresno State 17-24 in the first Mountain West Conference game a day after the MAC Championship. He's been pretty decent on the season completing 60.6% of his passes for 1,325 yds with 9 TDs and 5 INTs. Garretson is a go this week vs NIU after suffering a concussion against Fresno State.
Rushing the ball is senior Joey DeMartino who has 1,078 yds and 12 TDs on the ground.
Utah State Defense
The NIU offense had trouble with a #8 ranked Bowling Green defense in the MACC. Just look a couple spots down on that list and you'll see Utah State at #12. This could spell trouble for the Huskies in the Poinsettia Bowl. They have the #10 rushing D and #20 pass efficiency D.
LB Jake Doughty is 9th in the nation in total tackles with 140 and is set to make Jordan Lynch's life a complete nightmare tonight. LB Zach Vigil has 115 of his own.
Just play some defense. Any sort of defense. Don't give up 574 total yds and 393 through the air like they did against Bowling Green and they'll be in this one. The defense seemed to be coming together this season, but then fell apart when we needed them to step up the most. That can't happen again.
On offense, this game will be won or lost on the performance of the man who placed 3rd in the Heisman voting this year, Jordan Lynch. He can't get flustered out there if this is a close game. The offense was a little off here and there against Bowling Green and everybody is going to have to be on the same page if they want to win this one and take home a Poinsettia Bowl victory to Dekalb. It's not a BCS bowl, but this season is still one of the most successful in NIU history.
This is going to be an extremely tough challenge for NIU to face these Aggies with their tremendous defense, but I believe they can find a way to come out on top 24-21.