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DETROIT — The Bowling Green State University football team has spent the past few days preparing for Northern Illinois, its opponent in today’s Mid-American Conference championship game.
And when teams prepare to face the Huskies, they spend a great deal of time preparing for quarterback Jordan Lynch, the MAC offensive player of the year each of the past two seasons.
So the Falcons spent the past week preparing for Lynch, whom they will face at Ford Field starting at 8 p.m. — and all it took was three players. Freshmen running backs Eric Harrell and Marcus Levy along with freshman quarterback Austin Valdez weren’t on the field together when they mimicked the play of NIU’s standout signal-caller.
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But that thought might have crossed BG coach Dave Clawson’s mind when he tried to simulate Lynch’s play for the Falcon defense.
“We run the plays they run, but you can’t simulate his skill set [in practice],” Clawson said. “If he was a tailback, he’d be a first-team, all-conference tailback. If they didn’t run him and he just threw the ball, he’d be a first-team, all-conference quarterback.
“His skill set is so unique, we have NFL scouts in here who believe he can be a quarterback in the NFL.”
Much of what makes Lynch unique is his ability to run the football. He has carried the ball 248 times for 1,755 yards, an average of 146.2 yards per game that leads the MAC and ranks third nationally.
Earlier this year Lynch set an NCAA FBS game record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 316 against Central Michigan. That record lasted a little more than a month before Lynch reset it with 321 yards against Western Michigan.
“He does not run like a quarterback,” BG defensive tackle Ted Ouellet said. “He finishes runs like a running back — he finishes runs hard.
“It doesn’t look like he runs to avoid contact. It looks like he relishes it.”
But when teams try to keep Lynch from running, he throws the ball well. In the Huskies’ season opener against Iowa, the senior was limited to just 56 rushing yards, but he added 275 passing yards and three TDs as NIU won 30-27.
Lynch threw for a season-high 345 yards and two touchdowns in the Huskies’ win against Ball State. He has completed better than 64 percent of his passes for 2,457 yards and 22 TDs, giving him 4,212 yards of total offense.
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That total offense figure is tops in the MAC and sixth-best nationally, a prime reason there is talk about the 6-foot, 216-pounder being a Heisman Trophy candidate. But Lynch said numbers are not the foundation of his candidacy for post-season awards.
“The only way I get a chance to go to New York and the Heisman Trophy is to win games,” Lynch said.
While it sounds simple, Clawson said the key to stopping Lynch is to tackle well.
“If you look at the close games they won, it’s because [the other teams] didn’t tackle him,” Clawson said. “I’m not saying that’s easy to do, but if you eliminate a handful of missed tackles by a couple of opponents, they’re probably not 12-0.
“But the bottom line is that great players make plays at critical times, and he has done that over and over and over again in his career.”
BG senior linebacker Paul Swan agreed, adding, “If we do our jobs, do our assignments, and tackle him, I think we will be in good shape. But that’s the challenge. He breaks a lot of tackles, and he runs away from defenders.”
There’s also a way the BG offense can help the Falcons stop Lynch: That’s by holding on to the ball to limit the Huskies’ possessions and time of possession.
“We know that Northern Illinois can score points. While we have great confidence in our defense, we know that scoring just 14 points isn’t going to get the job done,” senior tight end Alex Bayer said. “When we get our opportunities in the red zone, we have to take advantage of them.”