SAN DIEGO—One team lived up to its reputation. The other team will leave San Diego scratching their collective heads. The Utah State Aggies took advantage of Northern Illinois offensive miscues and a less than stellar performance from Heisman second-runner up Jordan Lynch to defeat the Huskies 21-14 in the 9th Annual San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl from San Diego, Calif.
Utah State safety Brian Suite accounted for both the Aggies +2 turnovers; recovering a fumble to stop a first quarter Huskie drive, then intercepting a poorly-thrown pass by Lynch on the first play of the second half. Both turnovers led to 10 Utah State points.
Suite was only one member of a defensive team that covered the Huskie receivers like glue, forcing Lynch to rely on only one facet of his offense. Lynch came into the game needing 192 yards rushing to become the first major college player to rush for 2,000 yards and pass for 2,000 yards in the same season. However, the Aggies defensive front linemen wouldn’t allow it, limiting Lynch to 39 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries. Lynch also had 20 completions on 35 passing attempts for 216 yards. He also threw one touchdown and one interception.
Northern Illinois game into this game averaging over 42 points per game, but all the Huskies managed was a one-yard quarterback keeper by Lynch in the second quarter and a 5-yard hitch to Juwan Brescacin with 1:44 left in the game. Northern Illinois attempted an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff but it was recovered by Utah State. The Aggies finished the game with three straight victory formations to seal the upset. The Huskies were previously ranked #14 before their first loss of the year, coming against Bowling Green in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game. Lynch, who was 24-2 before the loss to Bowling Green, finished his collegiate career with two straight losses.
The second surprise of the night, at least to Northern Illinois fans, was the running of Aggie senior Joey DeMartino, a San Diego native who finished the night with 143 yards rushing and one touchdown on 23 carries. DeMartino played high school and junior college football in San Diego before transferring to Utah State. DeMartino adds a ball control feature to a college game that lives and dies on the pass. The Aggies are 7-0 when DeMartino rushes for more than 100 yards per game. Utah State kept the Huskies offense off the field by rushing DeMartino up the middle, chewing up time off the clock. As evident by the last Northern Illinois possession, the Aggies stuck to their game plan.
The running game wasn’t always in the game plan, at least not at the beginning of the season. While Northern Illinois was decimating opponents in their bid for a BCS Bowl Game, Utah State was just trying to live to the hype generated by Heisman hopeful Chuckie Keaton. Keaton, a pre-season finalist pick for college’s equivalent of the Most Valuable Player award, was trying to give his team a lift out of a 3-2 start when a knee injury against BYU in Week 6 ended his season. True freshman Darell Garretson stepped in to fill impossible shoes. This move proved not to be as difficult as the fans thought, especially when its defense only gives up 17.2 points per game. All Garretson needed to do was protect the football and keep the chains moving forward.
The Aggies may have lost the offensive battle of first downs and total yards, but its defense didn’t break. In the end, victory usually belongs to the team that makes the least amount of mistakes. Tonight that team was Utah State.