SAN DIEGO – The first battle between two of the winningest Group of 5 programs in the country was over by halftime.
Boise State jumped out to a big lead in the first two quarters and cruised to a 55-7 win over Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl on Wednesday at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego for the Huskies' worst loss since 2007.
The Broncos (9-5 overall) led 31-7 at halftime and scored touchdowns on their first three possessions. Boise State, which now has 64 wins since 2010 compared to 65 by Northern Illinois, outgained the Huskies 654-33 and set a Poinsettia Bowl record for most points in a game.
"Let's not make a mountain out of a molehill," Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey said about whether the loss hurts the Huskies' reputation. "We lost a game where they got after us up front. We're not used to that. But there was never any quit out of anybody on this team. There was no give up. They were fighting the entire time."
It's the most lopsided loss for Northern Illinois since falling 70-21 at Toledo in 2007.
It's also the fourth consecutive bowl loss for the Huskies, who last beat Arkansas State in the 2012 GoDaddy Bowl.
"We looked at everything last year and we'll look at it again this year," Carey said of the Huskies' 52-23 loss to Marshall in the 2014 Boca Raton Bowl. "I think you do that whether you win or lost, but there's more attention paid to it when you lose. We'll give it it's due here after Christmas. We'll be back in the office and look at the film and put it to bed."
The Huskies (8-6 overall) have now lost in all three of their apperances in the Poinsettia Bowl – also falling 21-14 to Utah State in 2013 and 37-7 to TCU in 2006. It's also the third time that their leading rusher was held well under his season average in the bowl game.
Against a Boise State team that came into the game ranked No. 12 in the nation in rush defense, Northern Illinois junior running back Joel Bouaganon, who entered the contest with 1,269 rushing yards (97.6 per game), finished with eight carries for a season-low 16 yards.
"They were a good team, their defense was rock solid," Northern Illinois senior center Andrew Ness said. "We also hurt ourselves. We played our worst game."
In the 2013 loss to Utah State, quarterback Jordan Lynch had 18 carries for 39 yards and in the 2006 loss to TCU, Garrett Wolfe had 20 carries for 28 yards despite coming into the game as the nation's leader in rushing yards.
Northern Illinois junior Aregeros Turner, who was the Mid-American Conference Special Teams Player of the Year, returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter – his second return score of the season – for the only points of the game for the Huskies.
Playing for the first time since injuring his left leg in the season finale against Ohio, Northern Illinois redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Graham went 7 for 21 with 38 yards.
The Huskies were held to a season-low minus-5 rushing yards on the day and the Broncos sacked Graham five times.
"It was stop the run," Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said of the Broncos' gameplan. "We simplified it. ... I just felt like the one-on-one battles we had, our guys were winning it. It was technique, effort, whatever that was, the one-on-one battles were going in our favor. ... I thought we looked fresh. I thought we flew around. I thought our team was fast tonight."
The Boise State offense put on a show against Northern Illinois, particularly early in the game. Freshman quarterback Brett Rypien went 29 for 39 with 377 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Sophomore running back Jeremy McNichols had 93 rushing yards and two touchdowns and added five receptions for 96 yards and a receiving score. With 26 touchdowns on the season, McNichols is now tied for most in the nation with Louisana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon.
It was a nightmare start for the Huskies, with Boise State scoring three plays into the game. McNichols hauled in a 39-yard pass on the second play of the opening drive before scoring on a 29-yard run up the middle to put the Broncos ahead 7-0 less than a minute into the game.
The touchdown was the fastest offensive score to start a game for Boise State in a bowl game and fastest touchdown in Poinsettia Bowl history.
The Huskies slowly marched their way down the field on their opening drive, before fumbling on the snap of the 13th play of the drive on the Boise State 26-yard line.
However, the first quarter was all Boise State, who outgained the Huskies 240-42 and added two more touchdowns – a 4-yard reception and a 1-yard run by McNichols.
"It helps starting out getting the run game going," Rypien said. "I thought we were executing everything that was being called tonight. I felt like our preparation for this game was really, really good."
After Boise State pushed the lead to 24-0 after a short field goal, Turner had his Poinsettia Bowl record 96-yard touchdown return on the ensuing kickoff to give Northern Illinois life for the first time midway through the second quarter.
"Disappointed in the kickoff return," Harsin said. "We knew they had a great returner – he showed that tonight. We shut it down after that happened."
The Huskies got the ball back after Northern Illinois defensive end Austin Smaha recovered a fumble on the Boise State 32-yard line, but Graham was sacked and lost the ball back to the Broncos. It was the third fumble for Northern Illinois in the first half.
The Broncos took a 31-7 lead into halftime after a 16-yard touchdown pass by Rypien and outgained the Huskies 360-36 in the first two quarters.
Boise State continued to pile on in the second half, outscoring the Huskies 24-0 and holding them to minus-3 yards in the final two quarters.
It was the second consecutive game the Huskies were shutout in a half after they were unable to score in the first half of the MAC Championship game. The Huskies also end the season on a three-game losing streak and suffered a pair of three-game skids in the same season for the first time since 2007 – when Northern Illinois finished 2-10.