Northern Illinois had an easy time dispatching Fresno State 40-17 in the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl on Saturday. Here is a quick instant analysis:
How the game was won: Northern Illinois dominated everywhere, but it all started with the way the Huskies came out. Though they are the No. 7 rushing team in the country behind running back Chad Spann, Northern Illinois set the tone with the pass behind quarterback Chandler Harnish. That seemed to catch Fresno State off guard, and Northern Illinois receivers consistently got behind coverage. The Northern Illinois offensive line dominated, holding the top sack duo in the nation in Chris Carter and Logan Harrell completely in check. That plan opened everything up, and Northern Illinois finally had a breakout game in a bowl. The Huskies had scored 20 combined points in their past three bowl appearances.
Turning point: After going down 26-10 in the third quarter, Fresno State mounted one of its best-looking drives of the game. The Bulldogs faced a third-and-6 from the Northern Illinois 8, hoping to cut the deficit to single-digits and get back into the game. But Devon Butler stripped Fresno State quarterback Ryan Colburn from behind, and Tommy Davis recovered for the Huskies.
Stat of the game: 0-7. That is Fresno State's bowl record against teams from non-automatic qualifying conferences since 1990.
Player of the game: Chandler Harnish. We knew the junior quarterback was a dual-threat, and he showed that against Fresno State with one of his best performances of the season. His passing made a huge difference in the game -- he had 300 yards through the air for the first time this season -- and he ended with 372 total yards of offense and three touchdowns.
Unsung hero of the game: Northern Illinois defensive end Jake Coffman. The former member of the U.S. Marine Corps was everywhere and keyed an impressive defensive performance for the Huskies. He had a Humanitarian Bowl-record three sacks, and the defense harassed Colburn all game long. Plus, the Huskies limited the Bulldogs to 2.1 yards a carry.
What Fresno State learned: The Bulldogs simply cannot get up for games against non-AQ opponents. They beat Cincinnati early and Illinois to close the regular-season and have a great record against teams from AQ conferences under Pat Hill. But three years in a row now, Fresno State has lost to non-AQ teams in a bowl game. This was the Bulldogs' worst loss in its 20 bowl appearances, but they had plenty of stinkers this year. Ole Miss and Boise State, anyone?
What Northern Illinois learned: The Huskies had something to prove for several reasons. First, they got upset in the MAC championship to Miami (Ohio), losing with 33 seconds left. Then coach Jerry Kill left for Minnesota. Interim coach Tom Matukewicz did a fantastic job getting this team ready and motivated to play. It was the school's first bowl win since 2004, but next season could be a rebuilding year under new coach Dave Doeren. Harnish returns, but Spann and seven starters on defense are gone.
Record performance: Northern Illinois kicker Michael Cklamovski kicked a 51-yard field goal in the third quarter, the longest of his career and a Humanitarian Bowl record. That certainly made up for a missed extra point in the first quarter. One more record -- Northern Illinois won 11 games for the first time in school history.