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Northern Illinois Wins School – Record 11th Game With Victory in the Humanitarian Bowl
Northern Illinois linebackers coach Tom Matukwicz decided to make his 15 minutes of fame fun when he was named interim head coach for the Huskies’ Humanitarian Bowl game against Fresno State.
Things were in the dumps after going 10-2 in their Mid-American Conference championship game after winning 9 straight games and immediately losing to Miami of Ohio 26-21. Two days later their head coach, Jerry Kill, proved a real delight by becoming Minnesota’s new big-time coach in the Big Ten.
No problem. “Tuk” (MaTUKEwicz’s nickname for his players) is Polish, he knows how to party. If you’ve ever attended a Polish funeral, you know how to party after a burial. Tuke gave a new meaning to the expression ‘Latka Latka, Ai Hans’.
He was smart until the kickoff of the Humanitarian Bowl, and boy, did his Huskies kick the lively stuffing of the Fresno State Bulldogs to a 40-17 victory to give Northern Illinois its school-record 11th victory. To end the season on a high note.
Never one to mince words, Tuke said, “We’ll start next season in the top 25. If you’ve got a vote, put us there.”
When next season begins, Northern Illinois’ new head coach will be Dave Doeren, the current defensive coordinator for the No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers (11-1), who will face TCU (12-0) in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. day Tuke will remain as linebackers coach.
If nothing else, Tom Matukwicz has a perfect record (1-0) as head coach of a major college team, and with two bowl wins to boot.
The Huskies credited Tuke’s humor with keeping them loose and focused on their bowling game, and it showed in their play.
Chandler Harnish (nominated for the most unlikely name for a college football quarterback) ran for two touchdowns and threw for another as Northern Illinois won its first bowl game since 2004. He went 17-for-26 (65%) while passing for 300 yards and added another 72 yards rushing. Harnish, a junior, ranks 15th nationally in passing efficiency.
The Huskies offensive line kept Fresno State’s rush out of harm’s way, leading to two great circus catches – a fingertip snatch by Perez Ashford on the sideline and a mid-route adjustment by Willie Clark for 32 yards. It was sweet for Northern Illinois.
Huskies running back Chad Spann rolled for 95 yards and two touchdowns, giving him 22 rushing TDs for the season, tying Oregon’s LaMichael James and Nevada’s Wai Tua for the national scoring lead.
Although the final score was 40-17, Northern Illinois dominated Fresno State as the Huskies scored on 7 straight possessions and were never punted in the game.
And the Husky defense? I’m glad you asked. They sacked the Bulldogs’ QB, Ryan Colburn, 6 times, including 3 of Jake (you might call him “The Animal”) Coffman. They held Fresno’s tight end Robbie Rouse to 32 yards; Rouse rushed for nearly 300 yards in a game this year.
Fresno State finished the year 8-5; 11-3 at Northern Illinois.
A couple of freshman quarterbacks — Jake Heaps from Brigham Young and Corey Robinson from Troy — shined as they joined Northern Illinois in leading their teams to victories in the other two bowl games that same day.
Jake Heaps, a true freshman and one of college football’s top QB recruits, helped BYU defeat UTEP (Texas-El Paso), 52-24, in the New Mexico Bowl. Last year, Heaps led Skyline High School to its third straight 4A (Big School) Washington State Championship. He passed for 9,196 yards and 114 touchdowns during his prep career.
Heaps, who shared QB time before Riley Nelson got hurt, initially struggled as a starter, but it couldn’t have ended better.
The BYU Cougars went 1-4 to open the season and reaching a bowl game, one short of winning, seemed unlikely but, with everything on Heaps’ back, they finished 5-2 to become bowl eligible at 6-6.
Jake Heaps completed 7 of his first 9 passes and left 2 incomplete passes that the receivers should have caught. By the end of the game, Heaps had gone 25-34 (73%) for 264 yards and 4 touchdowns; Cody Hoffman had 3 catches of 31, 29 and 3 yards.
4 TD passes gave Heaps 15 for the year, breaking Ty Detmer’s 22 year old record. Detmer played 14 years in the NFL for 6 different teams.
Heaps, who became the first freshman to start for BYU in the Cougars 29 bowl-games, was named New Mexico Bowl Offensive Player of the Year. Not too shabby for a 6-foot-2, 205-pound true freshman. He is also tough. He played through a broken rib he suffered in BYU’s 17-16 last-game road loss at Utah.
Mike Price and his UTEP Miners had the opposite experience this season – they started the season 5-1 but finished 1-6. UTEP reached a bowl game for the first time since 2005 but fell to 0-5 in bowl play after beating Mississippi 14-7 in the 1967 Sun Bowl.
Corey Robinson, a redshirt freshman, learned his lessons well. Robinson had a tough first year watching after throwing for 5,872 yards and a national-record 91 touchdowns his senior year at Lone Oak High School in Paducah (KY). Prep had just 4 interceptions in 520 attempts as a senior, had 132 career TD passes and was named Kentucky’s top player.
Heading into the New Orleans Bowl, Robinson had passed for 3,339 yards and 24 touchdowns. In the two prior games that the Troy Trojans needed to stay competitive for their 5th straight Sun Belt Conference title, Robinson went 51-of-73 (70%) for 628 yards and 5 TDs.
He didn’t disappoint against an 8-4 Ohio team, going 23-of-29 (79%) for 285 yards and 4 touchdowns in the first half as Troy jumped out to a 38-7 lead and the Bobcats were toast. Ohio needed to play well on defense and control the ball on offense, and couldn’t.
Troy won the New Orleans Bowl, 48-21, and Ohio coach Frank Solich wondered what had happened. Ohio’s all-time bowl game record is still winless at 0-5.
Robinson would finish the game 32-of-42 (76%) for 387 yards. He had a lot of support.
Senior wide receiver Tebiarus Gill had a New Orleans Bowl-record 3 TD catches of 31, 26 and 17 yards. Fellow senior Jerrell Jernigan caught a 16-yard scoring catch. Ohio made a big mistake trying to cover Troy’s receivers man-to-man. Troy finished with 602 offensive yards, another New Orleans Bowl record.
The Trojans were so dominant that they didn’t punt until the fourth quarter. Troy pounded Ohio’s defense in the first two quarters, gaining 371 to 39-yards. Corey Robinson, a 6-foot, 220-pound redshirt freshman, was named Most Valuable Player.
While it’s rare for a true freshman or redshirt freshman to win a bowl game, it proves a point – you can’t coach a kid on talent, but when a player has talent, you can help coach him to his potential.
Let’s just say it here and now – Jake Heaps and Corey Robinson both have talent. If you doubt it, just ask UTEP coach Mike Price or Ohio coach Frank Solich.
Copyright © 2010 Ed Bagley
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