Florida State, Northern Illinois Prepared to Run Often

By Jimmy Johnson
James Wilder Jr. Florida State
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Jimmy Johnson

Who shall inherit the ground game on New Year’s Day?

That’s just one of the many story lines between the Florida State Seminoles and the Northern Illinois Huskies when they play in the Orange Bowl to ring in 2013. But the tales of these two teams’ ground attacks are most certainly different.

The Seminoles rely on a deep collection of running backs, while the Huskies have been paced by play of their brute, patient and fleet quarterback – Jordan Lynch.

After being an unknown and barely used back for his first three seasons, Florida State running back Chris Thompson finally found success in his senior season. Thompson played in eight games, and despite missing Florida State’s final five games, he still ended up leading the Seminoles with 687 rushing yards and 7.5 yards per carry. The Greenville, Fla. native had his season cut short when he tore his ACL during the Seminoles’ 33-20 road loss to the Miami (FL) Hurricanes.

Thompson wasn’t the feature back for Florida State, but his speed added a unique dimension to its offense. Two sophomores – Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. – have shared running back duties since Thompson’s departure.

Freeman can break through the second and third level of a defense with a burst of his own, too. More times than not, the 5-9, 209 lbs. running back runs upright and often looks to run through defenders. Wilder Jr. is built like a Pop Machine. At 6-2 226 lbs, Wilder Jr. is as strong as he sounds. Together, the tandem presents two viable options that can do different things for Florida State’s offense.

EJ Manuel won’t be a concern on the ground for Northern Illinois. The Seminoles’ quarterback eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark only once in 13 games this season and does most of his damage down the field with his receivers.

Florida State’s offensive line will be the biggest test for the Huskies front seven, which features two of the Mid American Conference’s best pass-rushers in Alan Baxter and Sean Progar. Both tallied at least 10 tackles-for-loss this season, and they’ll try to add to that against Florida State’s rushing trio.

It won’t take an old western wanted sign for the Seminoles to figure out who to stop on the Huskies’ offense, as Lynch – who set the FBS rushing record for a quarterback with 1,771 yards – has been one of this year’s most efficient and high-scoring players. That’s just one of the many records Lynch can now find his name attached with in college football history.

Jordan Lynch Northern Illinois
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

After other programs shunned at the idea of playing him at quarterback – instead, suggesting he play running back or linebacker – Lynch made himself an underdog darling. He only failed to reach the 100-yard rushing mark once this season.

Simply put, Lynch runs hard, but not erratically. His patience reading blocks and potential holes is impressive. And once he’s found room to run, if a defender dare gets in his way, he’ll welcome them, run through them and score all in the process.

But Florida State’s defense has the speed and credentials to silence the Huskies’ superb dual-threat. Four Seminoles earned All-ACC honors this season, including defensive linemen Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine.

The Huskies will run a lot of spread sets, creating a lot of space in the middle of the field and forcing Florida State to respect Northern Illinois’ receivers.

Of course, the Huskies do have running backs, but rely on Lynch to create their offense during a given game. Running backs Leighton Settle and Akeem Daniels will have to create in space to help alleviate some of the pressure off of Lynch.

The Seminoles and Northern Illinois both have talented run games. But on New Year’s Day, something will have to give between a known ACC commodity and the MAC’s most talented yet vastly non-respected offense.

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