By Cody Goodwin
Jordan Lynch spent last season’s opening-game running through and around Iowa’s defense. He tallied 119 yards on 18 carries — Lynch even found the end zone on a 73-yard run.
This year was different. Anthony Hitchens knew it would be. He and the defense’s front seven spent all week preparing for the versatile Lynch, and it showed: the Iowa front seven held Lynch to just 56 yards rushing on 22 carries on Saturday afternoon.
“We blitzed more than last year,” Hitchens said after the Huskies topped Iowa, 30-27. “Our ends did a good job of containing the ball. It was a collective effort, the whole defense focused in on him.”
The Northern Illinois rushing attack, as a whole, never established any sort of rhythm. The Huskies used four different offensive rushers, with Lynch’s 22 carries leading the way.
Without Lynch’s rushing totals, Camer Stingily, Keith Harris and Tommylee Lewis combined for just 81 yards on 18 carries — and that’s without the 42-yard run by punter Tyler Wedel that came on a fake punt in the third quarter.
Both Hitchens and Christian Kirksey made stops that disrupted the rhythm of the Husky running game. The two combined for 27 tackles and put plenty of pressure on Lynch. They spent plays spying him, too, helping to contain him so that he wouldn’t escape the pocket and run. Northern Illinois’s zone read option attack never surfaced as a legitimate threat.
The defensive line also applied plenty of pressure. Dominic Alvis, Drew Ott and Carl Davis, among others, crashed into the pocket throughout the game, causing Lynch to scamper towards the sidelines where Hitchens, Kirksey and James Morris kept him at bay. The starting defensive lineman accounted for 24 tackles — including 2.5 for a loss.
“We were just more physical,” Davis said. “As the front four, we rotate guys and keep guys fresh. We wanted to get a push, knock the offensive lineman back so they’d have to go outwards so our linebackers can make that tackle.”
Alvis perhaps had the most impressive tackle of the day. He surged through the trenches while Lynch rolled to his left in the middle of the second quarter. Alvis, while carrying the offensive lineman with him, maneuvered just enough to pull Lynch to the ground, using mostly his weight and strength.
“It’s just assignment football,” Alvis said of the game plan. “We did a decent job of doing that. He’s still a shifty player. He made some plays with his feet.
“But he really beat us with his arm.”
Lynch torched the Iowa secondary with 275 yards through the air and three touchdowns. It was a huge improvement from the 6-0f-16, 56-yard performance he put up a year ago, when the Hawkeyes won 18-17 at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The Iowa secondary helped Lynch out a bit, too, as it appeared they blew some coverage during each of the three scores — Lynch found each scoring receiver in open space, often times when he scrambled out of the pocket to keep plays alive.
“Yeah, they got beat by us. He didn’t throw for a lot, but I think he ended up throwing for over 3,000 [yards] and rushed for 1,800,” Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz said of Lynch’s performance in last year’s game. “It didn’t stop his season, didn’t stop his team’s season.
“We had a lot of respect for them a year ago, maybe even more so this year with Lynch being a veteran player. He’s a tough, competitive quarterback. We knew that coming in and have nothing but respect for them and their entire program.”