Florida State’s superior talent won out over Northern Illinois, 31-10. The Seminoles’ 12 wins are the program’s most since winning the 1999 BCS championship. FSU had the advantages in size, speed and overall talent. That was abundantly clear before Tuesday’s game ever kicked off. From the moment this match-up was announced, it was evident Northern Illinois’ hope of winning hinged on lucky bounces, turnovers and well-timed-and-implemented gimmicks.
The Huskies got all of those, but not enough to bridge the mile-wide talent disparity. But for a little while, it was close. Rod Carey’s call of an onside kick after NIU scored its lone touchdown was the kind of gutsy move necessary to give the Huskies a puncher’s chance, much like the fake punt that led to their first three points. The interception quarterback Jordan Lynch threw on that possession, and Jamaal Bass’ late hit not long after were back-breaking.
E.J. Manuel gave the Seminoles breathing room from a 17-10 margin going into the final stanza. That score is not insignificant. Though NIU became the second non-automatic qualifier to lose to its BCS conference counterpart, the Huskies were in no way comparable to the 2008 Sugar Bowl participant Hawai’i. The Warriors were overwhelmed from the outset and broken down in a particularly violent manner.
For all the outrage pundits like Kirk Herbstreit and David Pollack expressed, Northern Illinois was in the 2013 Orange Bowl. And for three quarters, it fought like a team that deserved to be there.
FSU handled business as it needed. Jimbo Fisher’s play calling is sure to generate criticism — Manuel passed a surprisingly high total of 38 times despite the Seminoles averaging 6.6 yards per rush. However, that total is somewhat inflated by Lonnie Pryor’s long scoring runs of 37 and 60 yards. Pryor closed out a great college career with his best performance, book-ending the ‘Noles’ Orange Bowl scoring.
Otherwise, James Wilder, Jr. Devonta Freeman and Manuel averaged 4.7, 2.1 and 4.3 yards per attempt.
Seminole receivers Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene each made big plays. Greene’s outstretched leg on his touchdown reception just before halftime was highlight reel material.
An outstanding FSU defense asserted itself against the smaller, slower Huskies. Lynch was pressured on every play, only looking comfortable on NIU’s sole touchdown drive. For any struggles or underachievement FSU may have endured in 2012, the defense was consistently great. The Orange Bowl was no exception.
The added motivation of Lynch’s now-famous Sporting News interview was mentioned during the broadcast, and will surely be a talking point in the aftermath. I don’t buy the out-of-context defense; this reads more like the backlash of a frustrated player wanting to prove he and his teammates belong after weeks of being told they don’t.
Of course, the field is where truly makes such statements. Lynch will get another crack in 2013, as he and several key contributors to this historic Huskie team return for another run. Such high profile opportunities as the Orange Bowl are big for programs like Northern Illinois because the payouts, experience and exposure. A program with multiple 10-plus-win seasons since 2003, NIU isn’t a flash in the pan. And despite the outcome, the Orange Bowl can be an important stepping stone to bigger things in the future.
For Florida State, it hit some key benchmarks on its gradual return to college football elite. An ACC championship, BCS bowl win and 12 victories are all worthwhile milestones from which to build.