Here are three keys for Northern Illinois against Florida State in Tuesday night's Discover Orange Bowl.
1. Speed racers: Florida State is one of the fastest teams in the country and certainly the fastest team Northern Illinois has faced so far. It will take some time for NIU to adjust to the Seminoles' speed, especially on the defensive side. The Huskies have to limit big plays from FSU early in the game. NIU has enough speed of its own to keep pace, especially at wide receiver, and the Huskies' offensive tempo will play a huge role in the game. The Huskies want to operate extremely fast on offense, and once they start moving the chains, they're tough to stop. Three-and-outs must be avoided, and NIU defenders must keep Florida State's weapons like wide receiver Rashad Greene.
2. Win the second half: Both teams perform well in the second half, and NIU's coaching staff is confident in their ability to make adjustments and the players' conditioning. Both areas will be tested against a Florida State team that has outscored opponents 296-80 in the first half this season. Don't be surprised if the Seminoles jump out early. NIU has to be able to take a few punches, hang in until halftime and then do what it does best in the final 30 minutes. Other than a season-opening loss to Iowa, the Huskies have closed games extremely well, outscoring the opposition 258-117 in the final two quarters of play. Kent State and Iowa are the only teams to outscore NIU in the second half this season.
3. Special attention: NIU and Florida State both have bright spots in the kicking game, especially the Seminoles, who boast one of the nation's best kickers in Dustin Hopkins. The Huskies rank in the top five nationally in both kickoff coverage and punt coverage, and they have solid returners in Tommylee Lewis and A.J. Sebastiano. Kicker Mathew Sims earned All-MAC honors in 2011 and kept NIU alive in overtime against Kent State in the MAC championship game Nov. 30. If NIU wants to pull off the upset, it must gain an edge in the kicking game and make impact plays.