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Purdue braces for Northern Illinois QB threat

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Kickoff: Northern Illinois at Purdue, noon, Saturday
RADIO: 1380-AM
TV: ESPN2

Online: For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Lynch thrives with 'heart' and 'toughness'

Friday, September 27, 2013 - 7:00 am

Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch basks in football glory — check out "Lunch with Lynch" at www.JordanLynchfor6.com — without boasting. He understands today's success can be tomorrow's disappointment faster than you can say "Florida State's defense."

Yes, that is a reference to last year's 31-10 Orange Bowl thumping. Yes, the Florida State linebacker coach in that game was Greg Hudson, now Purdue's defensive coordinator and the man charged with slowing down Lynch for Saturday's Ross-Ade Stadium game.

Here is Lynch's take on his run-and-pass heroics in leading the Huskies to a 3-0 record and 15 victories in their last 17 games: “The throwing and the running, it goes to show the play-makers we have around us.

“That clears the way for me at times. All the credit goes to the offensive line.”

OK, this is not Muhammad Ali in his “I'm the greatest” boasting prime, which doesn't diminish the fact that there are dual-threat quarterbacks, and then there is Lynch, who takes it to a level never before seen.

Last week against Eastern Illinois, Lynch rushed for 189 yards on 23 carries, and completed 21 of 30 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown. He rallied the Huskies from a 20-0 deficit and earned MAC West Division Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Lynch has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 16 straight games. He is on pace to throw for almost 2,800 yards and rush for 1,600 yards. That would be impressive, but still a drop from last year, when he became the first major college quarterback to ever throw for more than 3,000 yards (3,138 yards, 26 TDs, six interceptions) and rush for more than 1,500 yards (1,815, 19 TDs).

“Everything they do runs off him,” Purdue coach Darrell Hazell says. “He's a special guy. He's a warrior. What makes him so special is his heart. He's got a huge heart and he's tough.”

Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey likes what he's seen — and wants more.

“He would say with me, that he has played well in the first three games, with a lot of room for improvement,” Carey says. “While it's been good, we all have expectations it's going to get better. We're on the same page with that.”

Lynch is a 6-foot, 216-pound senior who got a huge dose of humility against Florida State. He was 15 of 41 for 176 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He rushed 23 times for 44 yards. Florida State linebacker Vince Williams said afterward that, “He's terrible. He's not good at all.”

Lynch has responded by leading Northern Illinois to come-from-behind wins over Iowa and Eastern Illinois. For the season he's completed 63 percent of his passes for 662 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions. He's rushed for a team-leading 404 yards (5.9 yards a carry) and two TDs.

Hazell understands the challenge Lynch represents.

“He's throwing it a little bit more, and he's throwing it better,” Hazell says. “Any time he has a receiver that has single coverage with no underneath coverage, he's going to take it. It's in his package. You can tell he's checked into it all the time.

“But he's just so tough when he runs. He's going to run 20 to 25 times on Saturday. We have to do a good job of tackling him because he's a strong guy and he breaks a lot of tackles. He's a fullback with the ball in his hands, so we have to stop him with our up-front people. We also have to get linebackers and safeties in the box.”

Easy to say, not so easy to do given Lynch directs an offense that averages 39.3 points. How do you stop him?

You don't, Hazell says: “You slow him down. He's a great leader. You can see him directing all his guys. He's a fierce competitor.

“He's the type of guy you want in the foxhole with you. He's a guy you want on your team.”

Purdue (1-3) can best stop Lynch by keeping him on the sidelines with ball control offense. While Northern Illinois' defense is shaky — it allows 33.7 points a game — it does lead the nation with 14 sacks. Purdue has given up seven sacks.

Hazell wants to see better offense. The Boilers average a Big Ten-worst 15.2 points a game. They're last in the conference in nearly every offensive category.

“We need to have some success,” he says.

Translation: Better blocking, improved execution, harder running. Fullback Brandon Cottom is likely to get plenty of action Saturday

“We're going to continue to work hard through the process,” Hazell says. “That's the only way you get out of where we are right now. We have good players, but we still have to get a lot better on the little things we need to do to become a good team.

“We've got to do a better job of coaching, of making sure we're doing a better job of tackling and blocking. That's where it all starts.”