Saturday, January 7, 2012
GoDaddy.com Bowl: Three Keys
By Kevin Gemmell
You saw the preview and prediction, now here are three keys for Northern Illinois and Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Sunday.
Northern Illinois (10-3)
Experience counts: Northern Illinois is in a bowl game for the fourth consecutive season -- the longest streak in school history. The Huskies knocked off Fresno State in the 2010 Humanitarian Bowl 40-17 behind quarterback Chandler Harnish, who threw a touchdown, ran for two more and had 300 yards in the air and 72 on the ground. Arkansas State, meanwhile, is playing in just its second major bowl and first since 2005.
Step up, D: The Huskies have put up some impressive numbers this season, but their defensive performance seems to dictate the results. Consider: In the Huskies' 10 victories, they allowed 26.2 points and 371.4 yards per game, and forced 18 turnovers. Now, consider the three losses, in which they allowed 47.3 points and 572.7 yards per game, and forced only two turnovers. The offense drives the ship, but it looks like the defense is what makes the motor run. As it goes, so go the Huskies.
Key in on Frampton: Arkansas State's Dwayne Frampton might be one of the best wide receivers you've never heard of. Quarterback Ryan Aplin sets the tone for the hurry-up offense and more often than not, he finds Frampton, who caught 90 balls for 1,125 yards and six touchdowns. In five games this season he went for more than 90 yards. NIU might want to find a way to minimize his impact.
Arkansas State (10-2)
Finish the job: If/when Arkansas State gets a lead (and like most people, I'm anticipating a few lead changes during the game), the Red Wolves would be wise to keep going for the jugular because the Huskies won't go away. In the MAC title game, they erased a 20-0 halftime deficit en route to a 23-20 victory over Ohio, meaning they can score fast (16 points in the fourth quarter) and their defense, despite giving up a lot of points, can make plays when its back is against the wall.
Ignore the coaching shuffle: Hugh Freeze is gone -- off to Ole Miss more than a month ago. Interim coach David Gunn, who has been with the program for 10 seasons, has nurtured the team through this transitional period while former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn waits on the other side to take over his new squad. That's a lot for college kids to soak in. But Gunn has already said there won't be any changes to what the Red Wolves are going to do. Continuity is key, and all of the external distractions are exactly that: distractions.
Accept the inevitable, but not too much: Harnish is going to get his yards -- be they through the air or on the ground. Probably both. The Northern Illinois quarterback is eighth nationally in total offense, 12th nationally in passing efficiency and is Northern Illinois' leading rusher at 106.3 yards per game. Trying to eradicate his production completely is futile. But they can't let him go off for 229 on the ground like he did against Western Michigan, or 181 like he did against Ball State, or else it's going to spell trouble.