DeKALB – Jordan Lynch was under center, but few seemed aware. It was garbage time. ESPN2 announcers had moved their dialogue to Northern Illinois starting quarterback Chandler Harnish’s future. Cameras showed the sidelines as much as the field.
Then, the throw.
“We didn’t really go into that drive thinking, ‘Let’s run an out-and-up on them,’ ” NIU coach Dave Doeren explained last week. “But ... they started to tighten it up.
“So I said, ‘Let’s let Jordan throw one down the field.’ ”
The “out” helped receiver Willie Clark shed his defender. The “up” ended in a perfectly-thrown pass to Clark for a 37-yard touchdown, the Huskies final points in a 45-14 win against Bowling Green.
Even the celebration seemed to be more about Harnish, the senior bounding into the air in ESPN2’s slow motion while the TV cut to commercial.
“Probably the most excited I’ve been for a while,” Harnish said. “Right when it happened, I knew we were going to be celebrating.”
And for good reason.
To Lynch, who has a little-brother relationship with Harnish, the moment held plenty of significance. A sophomore, Lynch said he’s aware of the perception many fans have of him, the gripes and doubts about him throwing the football. He knows one pass won’t make those go away, especially when the receiver was open.
But the criticism brings out the competitor in him. And, better believe, it felt good to see Clark cross the goal line.
“I thought about it after I threw it, like, ‘Yeah, I can throw the ball,’ “ Lynch said, shrugging his shoulders. “I think I get that impression that I can’t throw because I can run pretty good. So whenever I get my shot, I just try to make the most of it.”
He has had few shots this season – just 15 passing attempts – because of when and how he’s used. The only time he gets to direct an entire possession is when the score is out of reach and running time off the clock is the goal. When the game is close, he usually runs himself, playing as more of a wildcat back, taking vicious hits instead of Harnish.
But, quietly, Lynch has improved as a passer. He’s completed 11 of those 15 attempts, a 73 percent completion rate that’s 10 points higher than Harnish. His 152.5 passer efficiency is just three points behind Harnish, who happens to rank second in the Mid-American Conference.
None of this is coincidence.
“I told everyone in fall camp, his percentage rate in fall camp was over Chandler’s,” Doeren said, adding he couldn’t remember the exact number. “It’s just, the overall part of it, the decision making, Chandler was way ahead. But when it came down to just looking and crunching numbers in camp, Jordan is a very good passer.
“He has a strong arm, he has a quick release. And he’s scary, because when he scrambles he can really run.”
No one wants to think about next fall, not as this season nears a potentially special conclusion. But, as great as Harnish has been, he’s no more than four games from moving onto his future – and maybe fewer.
Soon, the keys will be handed to someone else. Soon, a “quarterback-driven offense” will be without its quarterback. Lynch seems to be a likely replacement.
And Harnish will continue to celebrate every touchdown throw.
“When I was a true freshman and I didn’t play, people didn’t know if I was capable,” Harnish said. “I just didn’t have the opportunity. But I can say wholeheartedly that he’s the man, he’s got a great arm. He may be a little smaller in stature, he may be more of a bowling ball-type runner, but he can still throw it.”