Vandal preview: Northern Illinois' Lynch is built tough

The Vandals open their home schedule against a record-setting quarterback.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comSeptember 14, 2013 

Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey and QB Jordan Lynch after the Huskies won at Iowa 30-27 on Aug. 31.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Vandals' Millan a physical presence at LB

    Even when the only pads he wore were on his shins, and the rewards were orange slices and juice boxes, Marc Millan was destined to be a bruiser.

    Growing up in Southern California, he wanted to play football, but his mother was hesitant, so he played soccer until middle school.

    “It took me a while to convince her, but I kept getting penalties for slide tackling kids, so she eventually figured I’d be better suited for football,’’ he said.

    A decade later, Millan (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) is the leading tackler as a junior outside linebacker for Idaho. It’s his first season with the program after transferring from Santa Ana College. He has 19 tackles in two games (four for losses) and two sacks.

    “I like making big hits. It feels good to lay the wood on someone,’’ Millan said.

    Said Idaho coach Paul Petrino: “Marc’s done real well … he plays hard, he flies around. There’s a couple times he could’ve had even bigger hits. He’s got to trust his instinct and just pull the trigger.’’

    Millan, one of three junior college transfers starting at linebacker, said part of the reason he chose Idaho was “to be a part of a big change.

    “It’s what I came here to do. I’ve had some good stats, but that's not really a big deal to me. We still have steps we need to take. I’ve missed assignments, so I’ve got plenty of work to do.’’

    — Dave Southorn

— Growing up on Chicago’s working-class South Side, toughness was not a trait special to Jordan Lynch.

But watch how Northern Illinois’ senior quarterback plays the game, and that tenacity shines through. As he led the Huskies to an Orange Bowl berth last season, the 6-foot, 215-pound Lynch ran the ball 294 times and set an NCAA record by a quarterback with 1,815 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns.

“It’s kind of just something I grew up with, coming from a blue-collar area like the South Side, sometimes getting a little rough playing on the street,’’ he said.

In addition to his rushing total, which was fourth best in the nation regardless of position, Lynch also completed 237-of-394 passes for 3,138 yards for 25 TDs and six interceptions. He is the only quarterback in FBS history to throw for more than 3,000 yards and rush for more than 1,500 in a season. He also had two punts for a 57.5 yard average.

“He’s big, he’s strong, plays with passion and emotion — he reminds me of (Tim) Tebow, to be honest,’’ Idaho coach Paul Petrino said. “He’s a winner, he finds whatever way it takes to move the ball. You'll see him run people over.’’

Petrino noticed on film what Lynch’s head coach calls one of his quarterback’s best traits.

“He’s a competitor, ultra competitive — his desire to win is there in everything we do, talking beforehand or playing pingpong,’’ Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey said, adding that he hasn't played Lynch, but “he’d probably whoop me.’’

All those accomplishments from last season have led to a Heisman Trophy campaign. NIU has created a site, JordanLynchFor6.com, and sent out a lunch bag to voters in August, fitting for Lynch’s “lunch-pail’’ mentality.

“The accolades mean a lot, because that brings attention to my school and our conference (the MAC),’’ Lynch said. “For me, it means everyone is going to bring their best shot. They probably have our game circled, and I wouldn't want it any other way.’’

Lynch has already earned the Vandals’ respect.

“It’s obvious on film you can see what kind of a leader he is, the way he commands the offense,’’ Idaho linebacker Marc Millan said. “He doesn’t avoid contact, he won’t go to the refs if he takes a hit. The whole defense is looking forward to the challenge.’’

With new attention, new expectations and a new coach (his third in five years), one thing hasn't changed much for Lynch — the offense.

Carey was the Huskies’ offensive line coach in 2011 and offensive coordinator in 2012, and said he is always cautious of how many hits Lynch takes, but also wants his quarterback to have the ball in his hands as much as possible. Lynch had 22 carries for 56 yards in a season-opening win at Iowa, and completed 25-of-41 passes for 275 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

“There are a few small tweaks here and there, but it’s the same scheme. It’s worked pretty well, so no need to change it too much,’’ Lynch said.

After facing another mobile quarterback in Wyoming’s Brett Smith last week, Idaho draws perhaps the nation’s most versatile signal-caller in Lynch, who is also ready for the challenge.

“I know they’ll give us everything they’ve got,’’ he said.

And that’s just how he likes it.

Dave Southorn: 377-6420,Twitter: @IDS_southorn

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