NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch provides unique challenge for UMass football
Massachusetts football coach Charley Molnar remembers all too well what Jordan Lynch did to his team last season.
The Northern Illinois quarterback passed for 191 yards, rushed for 157 yards and scored three touchdowns in less than three quarters of play as the Huskies handed the Minutemen their worst loss of their first Football Bowl Subdivision season, 63-0, on Nov. 3 in DeKalb, Ill.
This was quite the low point for the UMass defense in 2012, and it further cemented Lynch as a Heisman Trophy candidate as he led the Huskies to the Mid-American Conference championship and a trip to the Orange Bowl.
“The thing I remember the most is when he ran by me and I thought, ’Gosh, how thick he is,‘” Molnar said. “Thick calves, thick legs, thick upper body, arms, the whole thing. He looks like a fullback. Tim Tebow-type physique on him, maybe not quite as tall, but certainly that same build.”
As a junior last season, Lynch became the first player in FBS history to rush for at least 1,500 yards and pass for 3,000 yards, and he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down through his first eight games as a senior.
On Oct. 19, he set the single-game rushing record for a quarterback with 316 yards on the ground in a 38-17 win at Central Michigan. Just a week later, he threw four passing touchdowns, rushed for another and caught a touchdown in a 59-20 rout of Eastern Michigan.
His success has translated into team success, as the undefeated Huskies are currently No. 17 in the Bowl Championship Subdivision standings and appear to be on their way to another conference championship and major bowl bid.
“He’s just better,” Molnar said. “They have a better passing game this year because he’s more mature.”
NIU runs most of its offense out of the read-option with Lynch’s dual-threat ability, making him the center of attention. This will force the Minutemen to honor his ability to run as well as pass the ball, making them aware of his presence at all three levels.
“Everyone just has to read their own keys,” safety Joe Colton said. “Corners read the receivers, safeties read the tackle box, linemen need to read linemen, outside linebackers read the backs. Everybody just do their job and read their keys.”
Molnar said that the most important thing is “to stay disciplined with your eyes” to predict what Lynch is going to do with the ball. He also said that each player has to stay in their own gaps.
Defending the read-option often requires a slower read by outside linebackers at the line of scrimmage. But with Lynch’s size and speed, the UMass defense can’t afford to play too slow.
“They always say, ‘Play fast, but don’t play in a hurry,’” said linebacker Ed Saint-Vil. “Whatever you’re doing, you want to play the game at full speed because the game is moving fast. And the moment you start trying to overthink things, that’s when the game is moving way too fast and the guy is running right by you.
“So you still want to play fast, but you want to make sure you know what you’re doing first. You can’t just run somewhere just to run somewhere.”
When asked about what it will take to slow Lynch down in the read-option, Saint-Vil said, “If I knew, I’d be a defensive coordinator.”
This isn’t UMass’ first crack at a quarterback with running abilities this season. The last time it confronted a similar threat, the team came against Kansas State on Sept. 14 when the quarterback tandem of Jake Waters and Daniel Sams combined for 155 rushing yards and three touchdowns – two from Waters through the air and one from Sams on the ground – in a 37-7 win over the Minutemen.
Lynch, however, combines both facets into one player and creates a more difficult offense to defend than UMass has seen all season.
“Northern Illinois’ offense is really unique,” Molnar said. “It’s the only team that we’ll face that’s like that.”
Nick Canelas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.