The (#23) Northern Illinois Huskies take on the Utah State Aggies in the San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on December 26th. The game will feature a high-powered offense versus a stout defense, and should be quite an interesting match up. To get you up to date (and really impress your friends with your knowledge of both teams) here are the top five names you need to know about each team.
Utah State Aggies (8-5, 7-2 Mountain West)
While the Aggies have a strong offense, it's the defensive side that shines most games. They are seventh in the FBS in points against, giving up just over 17 points per game.
The stellar defense is led by Jake Doughty (#51), their senior inside linebacker. Doughty is ninth in the country in tackles, with 140...or 11 per game. To offense players, the guy is like Visa...everywhere you want to be. He covers a ton of ground and even gets in the backfield, amassing 10.5 tackles for loss this season and two sacks. He also has four QB hurries, three pass breakups, an interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery that he ran back 86 yards.
But one linebacker isn't enough for the Aggies, so they use four. And there are two other linebackers that stand out above the rest. The other inside linebacker, junior Zach Vigil (#53), is also making a name for himself out west. Vigil is second in tackles with 115 and even better at stopping plays before the line of scrimmage - leading the team in tackles for a loss with 12.5. He also happens to have two sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, an interception, and a partridge in a pear tree (it is the holiday season after all).
Kyler Fackrell (#9) is the Aggies best outside LB. Fackrell is fourth on the team with 78 tackles, 12 of which have been for a loss. But he does led the team in sack - with five! He also has three quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles, a recovered fumble, and an interception that he returned 99 yards for a touchdown.
Despite all the defensive talk, Utah State does have an offense and it's led by freshman quarterback Darell Garretson (#6). Garretson took over when their star quarterback Chuckie Keaton got hurt in October. Since he's started, all the Aggies have done is go 5-1, only losing to #24 Fresno State. Garretson has passed for 1325 yards and nine touchdowns in his limited time as a starter. He has not been perfect though, as he has thrown five interceptions and been sacked 18 times in his six games.
The Aggies do have a nice run game, from the legs of Joey DeMartino (#28). DeMartino is the third straight Aggie to hit the 1000-yard mark, as he has gained 1078 yards on just under 200 carries. The 200 pound senior is tough to tackle, netting 5.4 yards per carry, and finding the endzone 12 times. Although they don't throw it to him a lot, DeMartino also has 12 receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown.
(#23) Northern Illinois Huskies (12-1, 8-1 MAC)
Even though the Huskies defense has improved game to game, unlike the Aggies, it has been the offense that has shined for NIU.
And it all starts with #6. Jordan Lynch (#6), who was named a first team AP All-American, just finished third in the Heisman voting...and for good reason. He has the stats of a quarterback and running back combined (with the body type of a linebacker). Lynch has now passed for 2676 yards with 23 touchdowns and seven picks. And on top of that, he is second in the nation in rushing yards with 1881 yards (a new NCAA record for a QB) with 22 more TDs. Oh, and he has a receiving touchdown as well. For the Huskies, the offense starts (and usually ends) with Jordan Lynch.
But if someone else wants the ball, junior runningback Cameron Stingily (#42) is more than a capable back. Stingily has now rushed for 1081 yards with nine scores. The 244 pound back is a beast to bring down and 72% of his yards are after contact. Lynch and Stingily are one of three duos in the FBS to each have 1000+ yards rushing (with Wisconsin's Gordon and White and Auburn's Mason and Marshall).
Junior wide receiver Tommylee Lewis (#10) is a great threat on the edge, not only catching but rushing as well. He leads the team in receptions, with 80, for 660 yards and a trio of touchdowns. Lewis is also third in rushing yards, as he has ran for 356 yards on just 28 carries (an average of 12.7 yards per carry). His 5'7 frame makes him quick, shifty, and hard to tackle.
Defensively, while not as strong as the offense, the Huskies do have some weapons...mainly senior safety Jimmie Ward (#15). Ward was also named an third team AP All-American for his play this season, as he leads the Huskies with 89 tackles and a whopping six interceptions, on of which he took back for a score. He also has eight pass break-ups, 2.5 tackles for a loss, a sack, forced a fumble, and recovered another.
The Huskies defensive line features a slew of good defensive linemen (including Boomer Mays and Ken Bishop) but it's George Rainey (#46) that leads the way. If you're playing the Huskies, you don't want to run into the 6'2 senior. While he is only eight in total tackles, he leads all Huskies in tackles for a loss - with nine. He also has four sacks and nine QB hurries. Rainey has also forced two fumbles, recovered another and blocked two kicks on the season.