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Northern Illinois Continues to Prep for Orange Bowl

Northern Illinois Huskies

Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been little over two weeks since Rod Carey was hired as the Northern Illinois Huskies‘ head football coach, but he admitted he’s had his moments of awkwardness and uncertainty while adjusting to his new job.

“I’m used to coaching the O-line the entire time – it’s weird,” Carey said during NIU’s weekly press conference at the Jeffrey and Kimberly Yordon Center in DeKalb, Ill. “You walk around not doing anything, you get bored quick.”

Things have been far from dull around the Huskies, though. There’s still been plenty of debate about whether or not Northern Illinois can contend with the ACC’s top team – the Florida State Seminoles – in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s day. Carey has spent his time prepping his squad about not only what’s going to happen on the field, but off it, too.

“[Florida State head coach JimboFisher gave me some advice when we were down at the Orange Bowl (press conference). He said, `Know where they are at.’ I said, `Oh, great.’ We’re going to have some structured events, but this is a reward,” Carey said. “That is the other part of this. We’re going to let them be kids, but they know they are representing themselves and the spotlight is on and the spotlight is bigger than it’s been for us. We’ve been talking about it nonstop.”

While soaking in some Florida sun sounds enticing, Huskies’ cornerback Rashaan Melvin see’s the trip down south as purely business and not pleasure.

“”The main focus is the football game. Everything else is second,” Melvin said. “We plan on having a good time, but we’re going down there to play a football game against one of the best teams in the country. As NIU as a whole program, we’re dedicated to our work. We’ll just focus on the game.”

Carey said he’ll be in charge of offensive play-calling duties against Florida State. There was some uncertainty on who would handle those duties, as Mike Dunbar – the Huskies original offensive coordinator – has been on a leave of absence since Sept. 3 to resume chemotherapy.

“I’m going to get out there and do it,” Carey said. “We’re trying to make it the least amount of change for this team as possible.”

Northern Illinois starting quarterback Jordan Lynch reiterated Carey’s plan to not make any drastic changes to the Huskies’ offensive philosophy.

“Nothing really changes,” Lynch said. “We’re going to do what we did for the last 12 weeks. Do what we did, and come out and play fast – how we normally do it.”

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Northern Illinois Huskies Need Offensive Bounceback in Poinsettia Bowl

The Northern Illinois Huskies were one win away from making their second straight trip the BCS in 2013 before running into a brick wall in the form of the Bowling Green Falcons in the MAC Championship game. Bowling Green’s top-ten defense contained the high-powered offensive attack of NIU and upset the Huskies to keep them from busting the BCS yet again. Northern Illinois will have to find a way to bounce back offensively in a hurry, however, as they face another tough defensive challenge in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl against the Utah State Aggies.

The MAC title game was the first time all season long that NIU failed to score at least 30 points in a game. Combined with a rough day on defense, the Huskies faced a lopsided upset loss at the hands of the Falcons thanks to their physical defense which were able to keep Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch somewhat contained and even forced a pair of interceptions out of the offensive leader of the Huskies’ attack.

They will need to figure out what went wrong in a hurry, though, as Utah State brings a similarly stingy defense to the Poinsettia Bowl. The Aggies rank No. 12 nationally in total defense this season and No. 10 against the run. They have a physical defensive front that helped turn around Utah State’s season after a rough 3-3 start to 2013 that ended up in the Moutain West Conference Championship game in their very first year in the conference.

NIU will be challenged by the Aggies when they square off. If they stumble in the same way they did against Bowling Green, Lynch will leave the Huskies with a disappointing and unsatisfying finale to his collegiate career. Can the Huskies fix what failed them in the MAC title game and come out ahead against Utah State?

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