Note to readers: This is the third story of a three-part series on Jordan Lynch's evolution into a Heisman Trophy candidate.
DeKALB – One inevitable comparison for Jordan Lynch is Tim Tebow.
The Northern Illinois senior quarterback and former Florida star and Heisman Trophy winner have a similar running style.
Both players are big and strong with the ability to lay a blow into oncoming defenders.
Each player has an unusual athletic build for a quarterback.
NIU coach Rod Carey compared the two quarterbacks before last year’s Orange Bowl, but with another season under Lynch’s belt and a passing ability that continues to improve, that comparison may no longer be valid.
Jim Zebrowski saw Jordan Lynch before he evolved into the Heisman Trophy finalist he is today.
Zebrowski came to NIU in 2010 as the quarterbacks coach, and when he watched Lynch, who ran the triple option in high school, that spring, he saw Lynch was more than just a runner.
When Zebrowski worked with the redshirt freshman, he saw a player that didn’t have any big mechanical flaws in his throwing motion and a guy that could make all the throws.
“He has arm strength, that was never an issue,” Zebrowski said. “He has a really strong arm.”
Three years later, everyone around NIU’s program has seen Lynch dazzle with his rushing ability.
This season, his 1,881 rushing yards are second in the nation behind Boston College tailback Andre Williams, another player who will be in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony this weekend.
Lynch broke the single-game rushing record for a quarterback twice in 2013.
However, there’s much more to his game. He’s been able to move the ball through the air efficiently (he’s completed 63.1 percent of his passes for 2,676 yards in 2013), and doesn’t turn the ball over – Lynch has only seven interceptions. Last season, Lynch’s first as a starter, he completed 60.2 percent of his throws for 3,138 yards and 25 touchdowns to just six interceptions in addition to his 1,815 rushing yards and 19 rushing scores.
“It’s really only my fourth year playing quarterback, when you think about it,” Lynch said. “My passing game’s getting a lot stronger every year.”
Lynch’s ability to take the ball and run for big gains while breaking numerous tackles is the main reason why he’s one of the six Heisman finalists. However, his throwing ability is a reason Zebrowski said Lynch shouldn’t be compared to Tebow, who led the Denver Broncos to the playoffs in 2011 but is now out of a job in the NFL.
Zebrowski, who went to Minnesota after Jerry Kill took the Gophers’ head coaching job following NIU’s loss in the 2010 Mid-American Conference Championship, has gotten a chance to watch Lynch during the Huskies’ midweek games. Zebrowski also watched Lynch on film, when Minnesota’s staff was breaking down Iowa this season.
He said Lynch’s willingness to improve in the passing game has shown in his play.
“People always say he’s a lot like Tebow. That’s a disservice to Jordan,” Zebrowski said. “Not in a mean way or a disservice to Tebow.”
Bob Cole began coaching NIU’s quarterbacks in 2012, and one of the first things he noticed was how quick Lynch got the football out of his hand.
Cole also said Lynch can make all the throws. When Cole, who coached wide receivers in 2011, took over as the quarterbacks coach, that was something he noticed.
“That probably was the most impressive to me, because I knew he could run,” Cole said.
Soon, everyone else on NIU’s schedule found out Lynch could throw as well. Heading into the Poinsettia Bowl, Lynch has completed 62 percent of his passes for 5,993 yards and 50 touchdowns to only 13 interceptions for his career.
“I just think he makes really good decisions now. He knows if a guy’s going to be open based on the coverage pre-snap more than he did last year,” Cole said. “He won’t take as many chances trying to force balls in there. He’ll just use his legs and go.”
Lynch is the Huskies’ first finalist for the Heisman, and NIU has only lost three games with him under center as the starter.
Just think, NIU was the only FBS program who wanted Lynch to throw the ball.
“I wanted to play quarterback all the way. Coach Kill was the only coach coming out of high school to give me a shot, to play quarterback all the way,” Lynch said. “I think even they had some thoughts of moving me to safety when I got here, because we had a lot of quarterbacks.
“But they stuck with me, and I’m really appreciative.”