Season Standouts

By Brian Earle

It has been a season to remember for good and bad reasons. NIU had a perfect regular season record, but lost in the MAC Championship to Bowling Green, falling short of the team’s goal. Sports writer Brian Earle breaks down the Huskies’ key players this season.

Quarterback: What can you say about redshirt senior Jordan Lynch that hasn’t already been said? After finishing No. 7 in the Heisman voting last season, Lynch had an even better season than last year and earned himself a trip to New York City as a Heisman finalist. He got it done through the air as well as on the ground. In his career, he is one of five quarterbacks to throw and run for 20 touchdowns, with 22 rushing and 23 passing. After setting the NCAA record for most rushing yards by a quarterback last year, he broke his own record this season with 1,881 yards. In the process of setting records left and right and earning numerous accolades, Lynch took the Huskies to unthinkable heights. He led the Huskies to their first undefeated regular season as an FBS program, as well as a second MAC Championship game and a second bowl game. Without a doubt, Lynch will depart from NIU as the most decorated player in Huskies history.

Running back: Due to the injuries of Akeem Daniels and Keith Harris Jr., the running back position was a big question mark coming into the season. Redshirt junior linebacker-turned-running back Cameron Stingily answered the bell in a big way and became the Huskies primary running back. On the season, Stingily eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark by running for 1,081 yards and nine touchdowns on 192 carries, while battling injuries throughout the season. With him and Lynch both surpassing 1,000 yards rushing, they became the first duo is NIU history to accomplish that feat. Stingily’s biggest game of the season came against Kent State, during which he set career highs by running for 266 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries.

Wide Receiver: With the departure of former wide out’s Martel Moore and Perez Ashford, the door was opened for junior Da’Ron Brown to step up as the Huskies’ playmaker. He quickly became Lynch’s favorite deep-threat and target in the end zone. Brown led the Huskies with nine receiving touchdowns as well as 689 receiving yards on 42 receptions. He recorded the Huskies’ highest yards per catch with an average of 16.4. His biggest game of the season came in the Huskies’ showdown against Ball State, during which he totaled a career-high 209 yards on eight receptions. He caught two touchdowns, one of which was a 58-yard screen pass, which is the longest touchdown of his career.

Offensive line: All season long, the Huskies’ offensive line bought Lynch plenty of time to throw and created plenty of wholes for Lynch and company to run through. They were led and anchored by redshirt junior Tyler Loos, who was named to the All-MAC First Offensive Team. Loos and the offensive line paved the way for NIU offensive records and players’ personal career highs. The Huskies finished as the most explosive offense in the MAC, averaging 535.5 yards per game. They accomplished all of that by giving up only nine sacks, most of which Lynch will tell you were on him.

Defensive line: While redshirt senior George Rainey wasn’t named to an All-Mac defensive team, he put together a season that was worthy of one. Rainey really came on toward the end of the season and made his presence felt. He recorded 40 total tackles on the season and really thrived in stopping the run. He led the Huskies with nine tackles for a loss of 32 yards. Rainey got to the quarterback his fair share of times, as well, recording four sacks for a loss of 21 yards. Rainey didn’t always get to the quarterback, but he led the Huskies with nine quarterback hurries. Rainey also led the Huskies in blocked kicks, while blocking a field goal and an extra point.

Linebacker: You could always expect to see redshirt junior Jamaal Bass flying all over the field making tackles. He was the Huskies’ second-leading tackler with 81 total tackles, 46 of the solo variety. He was a hard hitter for the Huskies as he tied for the most forced fumbles with two, forcing one in the season opener against Iowa and against Kent State. Bass played more up in the box as opposed to dropping back in coverage. He made five tackles for a loss of 13 yards. He was also able to get to the quarterback, recording 1.5 sacks for a loss of five yards. For his play on the field, Bass was named to the All-MAC First Defensive Team.

Secondary: The do-it-all safety Jimmie Ward was the leader and more for the Huskies defense this season. For his performance, Ward was named to the All-MAC First Defensive Team. Ward led the Huskies and the MAC with six interceptions, including one that he ran back for a touchdown against Purdue. His biggest interception of the season came in the opening week against Iowa, when he picked off Jake Rudock to set up the Huskies game winning field goal. As he did last season, Ward led the Huskies with 89 tackles, 57 of them solo tackles. He recorded 2.5 tackles for a loss of 15 yards and sacked the quarterback once for a loss of 10 yards. Ward will end his college career by playing in the prestigious 2014 Reese’s Senior Bowl on Jan. 25 in Mobile, Ala.

Special teams: The Huskies were lifted on the clutch leg of senior kicker Mathew Sims all season long. Sims was NIU’s second-leading scorer this season with 110 total points responsible for, behind only Lynch’s 138 total points responsible for. Sims is the Huskies’ second all-time leading scorer with 356 total points, behind only former kicker Steve Azar with 370 total points. Sims hit 17 of his 27 field goal attempts this season, none bigger than his game-winning 36-yard field goal against Iowa. He moved himself into third place with 54 career made field goals. On the season, Sims has hit 59 of 61 extra point attempts. By hitting 59, extra points he became the Huskies’ career leader for made extra points with 194.