Northern Illinois football averaged almost 300 yards rushing through its first three games of the season.
Jordan Lynch, Cameron Stingily and Tommylee Lewis each recorded 100-yard rushing games and the Huskies’ experienced offensive line was dominant as NIU was statistically one of the top rushing teams in the country.
But against Purdue, much of NIU’s early damage in the first half came via the play-action passing game. NIU used some sort of play-action fake on a majority of its passing plays and overall, Lynch was 13 of 20 for 166 yards and three touchdowns on play-action passes.
Most often these included fake handoffs to Stingily or Keith Harris Jr. up the middle or to Lewis on a fly sweep.
“I think any time that you can run the ball effectively your play-action’s going to work. If you can’t run the ball then you can’t do play-action. If you can run the ball you can do play-action,” NIU coach Rod Carey said. “I think that those things just kind of go hand in hand and fortunately we’ve been a good running team to this point.”
On NIU’s first drive, the Huskies drew a pass interference penalty off a play-action pass to Luke Eakes, but Lynch missed a couple of early throws as NIU settled for an opening field goal,
But on the next three possessions, Lynch completed 11 consecutive play-action passes in the first half, including his first two touchdown passes.
A prime example of how NIU’s fakes can manipulate defenders came on 1st-and-10 at the Purdue 49-yard line. Lynch faked a fly sweep to Stingily, which forced both linebackers to take a few steps laterally to their left and one step towards the line of scrimmage.
“You get the linebackers to respect the run,” Carey said. “Those are the guys, if you just drop back, they get into their pass drops and they get those windows you want to throw the ball in a lot smaller. If you can get them, hold them up towards the line of scrimmage, those holes behind them are bigger.”
Two plays later, the fake handoff to Stingily inside drew Purdue’s safety in and left Da’Ron Brown with 1-on-1 coverage. Lynch fired another perfectly placed throw for a 15-yard touchdown.
NIU again took advantage of Purdue’s commitment to stopping the run on Lynch’s second touchdown pass early in the second quarter. Lynch faked an inside run to Stingily, which drew Purdue’s middle linebacker out of his initial position on the goal line. Juwan Brescacin ran to the vacated spot and Lynch found him for a 4-yard touchdown.
After a Dechane Durante interception, NIU’s first play on the ensuing drive was a deep ball. Lynch faked the handoff to Stingily, drawing the safety up two yards and allowing Brown, who had beaten the cornerback, to slip well past. However, Lynch underthrew the pass because of Purdue’s pressure and the cornerback recovered in time to break up the play.
The development of Stingily and Harris along with the threat of Lewis on the outside has allowed Lynch more opportunities in the passing game.
NIU owned a large enough lead that Lynch was benched for most of the fourth quarter. Matt McIntosh came in and threw an 18-yard touchdown to Tim Semisch on 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter. Of course, it came off of play-action.