DETROIT – Northern Illinois may have had the big-name quarterback coming into the Mid-American Conference Championship, but it was Bowling Green’s gunslinger who grabbed the glory.
Matt Johnson threw for a title game-record five touchdowns and gashed the Huskies’ defense for 393 yards on the way to a 47-27 win, and in the process snatched the attention away from NIU’s Heisman Trophy candidate, Jordan Lynch.
“They have a great quarterback that deserves all the accolades he’s gotten,” Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said, “but we have a really good quarterback, too.”
Right from the start, Johnson was on fire and consistently found wide-open receivers for big plays. His first three completions went for a total of 112 yards, and NIU had no answer.
And the Huskies didn’t do much to make him look bad. With busted coverage after busted coverage, they showed why they came into the game ranked 108th in the nation (out of 123) in pass defense. It was because of this that NIU coach Rod Carey didn’t look at the performance as a particularly poor one.
“We’ve had busted coverages before this year, and the quarterback doesn’t see them, so he doesn’t throw it to them,” Carey said. “Give [Bowling Green] a lot of credit. The quarterback found it when we did have a bust here and there.”
So while Carey and his team certainly weren’t proud of the defense, it was more about what Johnson did well than what the Huskies did poorly. They were exposed for mistakes they’ve made all year, mistakes that may have caused them to give up 274 passing yards a game.
It’s an area of concern as the Huskies head into bowl season.
Should they face a talented quarterback like Johnson, this type of secondary play could continue to haunt them. Against Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo, an NFL Draft prospect, they allowed 450 yards through the air.
It’s not a one-time thing. The play of the secondary has been an issue all year, and on the biggest stage so far, it showed.
According to senior safety Jimmie Ward, there are many areas that need to be fixed, from bad communication to blown coverages. Ward, who has one more game in his career, said the explanation is simple.
“We’ve got to do better,” Ward said.