Poinsettia Bowl: Utah State Aggies face NIU's Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

USU is facing its second straight game against one of college football’s elite quarterbacks. Last week they squared off with Derek Carr, the most prolific passer and the highest scoring QB in the country. On December 26th, the Aggies face Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois’ star signal caller and a Heisman finalist. Merry Christmas, Aggies.

USU is facing its second straight game against one of college football's elite quarterbacks. Last week they squared off with Derek Carr, the most prolific passer and the highest scoring QB in the country. On December 26th, the Aggies face Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois' star signal caller and a Heisman finalist. Merry Christmas, Aggies.

The big question on everyone's mind is whether the Aggie defense can respond against yet another unstoppable offensive machine. Looking at what they have done this season, it's obvious that they are the premier defense in the MWC and one of the premier defenses in the country; they have proved it time and again against some of the best teams in the country. They are ranked nationally in almost every defensive category:

3rd Down Defense

Fumble Recoveries

INTs

Red Zone Defense

Rushing Defense

Scoring Defense

Pass Effeciency Defense

Tackles For Loss

Total Defense

9th

21st

19th

6th

10th

7th

19th

8th

12th


Many people will look to the Aggies' game against Fresno State's Carr in order to gauge how the Aggies respond to an NFL caliber quarterback. Carr, who Utah State battled against in the MWC Championship game, is reaching impressive milestones in both single season and career records for total passing yards and passing touchdowns. If you look at the numbers from his game versus USU, it would seem that they could do little to slow down his high-powered air game as he threw three TD passes and 400 passing yards against them. Despite knowing that Carr's favorite target is Davante Adams, the Aggies were unable to stop the two as they connected for 168 yards and a touchdown on 9 receptions.

While that doesn't sound like a particularly impressive defensive outing, especially given that Carr's season average was 400 yards and four passing TD's, it was actually much more significant of an achievement than it appears on first glance. In the first place, Carr was usually sitting comfortably on the bench midway through the 3rd quarter resting on a 20 point lead; and in second place, despite the impressive numbers, Carr's Bulldog offense was held to 24 total points, 11 points fewer than their previous lowest-scoring game, and over 23 points fewer than their season average.

After such a strong showing against Carr, who many believe should also have been invited to New York as a Heisman finalist, you would be tempted to think that Lynch shouldn't be any more trouble for this dominating defense. One elite QB is basically the same as the next; if you can stop one, you can stop another. This next challenge is very different in nature, however; after recognizing both as elite quarterbacks, the similarity ends.

Where Carr is almost exclusively going to beat you through the air, Lynch can beat you on the ground or through the air with equal ease. Although he's a quarterback, Lynch is ranked second in the country in total rushing yards and third in rushing yards per game. He has a great supporting cast as well. Despite being the second ranked rusher in the country, he is not the sole rushing threat; Cameron Stingily joins Lynch in the 1,000 yard rushers club as NIU's main running back.

Lynch is also one of the country's highest scoring QB's. He's just barely behind Carr in total TD's accounted for with two fewer TD's, but his have much greater variety, including passing, rushing, and (get this) even a receiving touchdown. He's by no means simply a scrambling quarterback; he adds an impressive 2,676 passing yards to his already illustrious running resume. To put that in perspective, he has thrown for as many yards as AJ McCarron, Alabama's Heisman finalist quarterback, while rushing for 1,881 yards to McCarron's 21 on the season (as a quick aside, we're still not sure why McCarron is a Heisman finalist...).

So how does the Aggie defense stop such a dual-threat quarterback? Why, with the best combination of hard-nosed run defense and pass rush that Lynch has ever seen. In fact, Lynch's propensity to run the ball plays right into USU's strength. They've only allowed eight rushing TDs all year, and a mere 107 rushing yards per game, holding opponents nearly 100 yards below their rushing average. Lynch is most likely already familiar with Aggie household names such as Jake Doughty, Zach and Nick Vigil, Kyler Fackrell, and B.J. Larsen through team film sessions. He will most likely be intimately familiar with them by the end of the game on the 26th.

The other positive note for USU is that, while Lynch's video game-ish stats are certainly impressive, who he's done it against is much less so. Even Bowling Green, who shut down Lynch and the Huskies in last week's MAC Championship game, had a less than impressive schedule despite their high rankings defensively. Were Northern Illinois' stats inflated by a weak schedule? Possibly. But even if they're not, the Aggies have the capacity to slow them down and, just maybe, get a similar performance against one of the nation's best.

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