Lynch, NIU big hurdle for Rockets

Huskies stand in way of Toledo’s title hopes

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    Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch did to Matt Campbell on Wednesday evening what he has done to many others the past two seasons.

    He wore Campbell out.

    As University of Toledo fans watched restlessly on TV as their team’s championship hopes swing back and forth in DeKalb, Ill., their coach was in a calm state.

    Campbell was sleeping.

    Forced into “babysitter duty” with his wife out of town, Campbell watched the first quarter of the Northern Illinois-Ball State clash before putting his two young daughters to bed. Campbell then checked in for the night at 9 p.m. or so.

    “I had a pretty good idea what was going to happen,” Campbell said Thursday, a day after Lynch, the terrific dual-threat quarterback, sparked a raucous fourth quarter in a closer-than-it-looked 48-27 triumph.

    Campbell’s defensive line coach, Eli Rasheed, stayed up a little longer than his boss before dozing off a few plays into the third quarter.

    “It got all fragmented after that,” said Rasheed, who got three or four hours of sleep the night before after Toledo’s win over Buffalo. “I have no idea what happened until I woke up at 2 o’clock and checked my phone for the scores.”

    Sleep will be in short supply this week amid the nerves and preparation building up to a huge meeting Wednesday at home against No. 20 and undefeated NIU. For the fourth year in a row, the Mid-American Conference’s West division title will be at stake when these two teams lock up. Toledo will attempt to do what no MAC team has done in more than two calendar years — beat NIU.

    The Huskies (10-0, 6-0) have won 23 consecutive MAC games, a run that began after they lost at Central Michigan on Oct. 1, 2011. If the streak grows to 24 next week, they will be division champs for the fourth straight year. There are many routes Toledo (7-3, 5-1) can take to unseat NIU, but the quickest one is this: Beat NIU. Watch NIU close its regular season six days later with a home win over a bad Western Michigan team. Win at Akron the day after Thanksgiving.

    Campbell’s team has won five in a row since their title hopes deflated in a loss at Ball State on Sept. 28. The Rockets needed three toss-up games to go in their favor to get back into the hunt. They won at Bowling Green on Oct. 26 for the first. The second came Wednesday when NIU, behind a virtuoso performance from Lynch (468 total yards and four TDs), upended Ball State in a battle of MAC unbeatens. Tied entering the fourth quarter, Lynch — the 2012 MAC offensive player of the year — made plays with his arm and his legs to engineer touchdown drives of 94 and 55 yards.

    The third check mark could come five days from now at the Glass Bowl, where Campbell-led teams are 10-1.

    “I’m glad he got the job done, but we have to do our job next week,” defensive end Jayrone Elliott said of Lynch.

    RUNNING BACKS: Arguably the deepest position group on the team is starting to look thin. Starter David Fluellen missed his second straight game Tuesday with a lower-leg injury, and his availability is unknown. Fluellen told the Buffalo News last week his injury is to his Achilles. Toledo has been less descriptive in details.

    Freshman Damion Jones-Moore sustained a concussion, possibly on a 53-yard TD run in the first half. Campbell hopes to get him back in the coming days. A third back, Cassius McDowell, has not been seen in recent weeks as he deals with a personal matter. That leaves just two scholarship backs, freshmen Kareem Hunt and Marc Remy, as sure things. Hunt has run for 100 yards or more in four straight games.

    Contact Ryan Autullo at:, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.