So it was with much difficulty that 35,000 Huskies fans trudged out of Sun Life Stadium Wednesday morning — at least I think it was Wednesday morning here by the time it finally ended.That characterization seems about right, on offense the team looked to be too tightly wound, perhaps understandable for a debut appearance on a big stage.
It was rather sad, actually. This was a game NIU could have won had their offense done anything at all, had their offense been anything resembling their regular-season offense.
The defense did its part against Florida State, but NIU QB Jordan Lynch had a rough night, and when he's not right, there's nothing much right about the NIU offense.
Yes, FSU has a terrific defense, but there were plays to be made and NIU simply missed them.
Lynch was impatient in the run game and forced throws when he had time. On this night, and unlike the entire season, Lynch didn't look like one of the top offensive players in college football.
Being chased to the sideline late in the third quarter, his interception deep in FSU territory with NIU down a touchdown — not long after recovering an onside kick — was the pivotal moment in the game.
It was still a two-score game with 11 minutes left and again on FSU's side of the 50 when a turnover turned it into a 21-point rout.
So it was a bit of a tease, seeing NIU march down the field in the third quarter with a chance to tie it, but even Kirk Herbstreit would have to admit that the Huskies made a game of it.
That debut was delayed, and delayed, and delayed, as ESPN's talking heads just couldn't wrap up their coverage of the Rose Bowl, where Wisconsin's last attempt to win the game came a cropper heading toward the north end zone, echoing a Wayne Cook failure back in 1994.
The event was fun enough to watch from a local bar, at least until halftime, and with some strong drink on tap at home for the end.
The worst part after the game was seeing the faces of the NIU students who had made the long trek to Southern Florida. They knew they faced a miserably long bus ride home, a trip made longer by an ugly fourth quarter.Perhaps so. Classes resume January 14. The university allowed reporters from ESPN to observe pre-game preparations in DeKalb and in Florida, and evidently the coaches did their homework.
The announced attendance was 72,073 and it was easily half NIU fans. What made it tougher is that many who made the trip probably spent money they could have used for more important things.
But moms and dads, aunts and grandmothers, teachers and friends told these kids that this is what they should do, that this opportunity will never come again, and that one day they will want to say they went to this game.
After a frustrating defeat, and enduring taunts from the FSU faithful, there were no smiles as NIU students loaded onto their buses.
But a new dawn brought a bright, warming sun, and the reminder that this was a gift of the most unexpected kind. It was the chance of a lifetime, and with a couple hours' sleep and three cups of coffee Wednesday morning, I remembered that the journey to the Orange Bowl was a huge victory.
NIU in the Orange Bowl. Seriously? I still can't say it without laughing.
Once the students return to campus, and ponder the miracle that was this BCS bowl berth, they will smile again.
After lunch, NIU holds its daily special teams meeting. Linebackers coach Kevin Kane begins with the punt team, followed by McNutt with the punt block/coverage team. McNutt notes that FSU has a weak side to its punt shield.We're used to those special team tricks. Florida State did not appear at all prepared for them, although unleashing a fullback to do his best swift-of-foot-was-Hiawatha impression to reverse the field position doesn't happen often in the Mid-American. The column provides additional technical information about preparations and outcomes.
"I need one guy to run through it," he says.
[Special teams coordinator Mike] Uremovich then shows a graphic that displays special teams rankings from college football guru Phil Steele. Florida State ranks third nationally, followed by NIU at fourth. "We've gotta win here," he says.
NIU ends up winning the kicking game in the Orange Bowl, pulling off two surprise plays and making far fewer mistakes than Florida State.