Iowa has difficult challenge in Lynch, NIU

Jordan Lynch's struggles last year against Iowa, his first career start, serves as inspiration to both Lynch and Iowa QB Jake Rudock, who makes his first career start against NIU on Saturday. MRQ/Icon SMI

This week a season ago was a rough for Jordan Lynch. The Northern Illinois quarterback made his first career start against a Big Ten team -- which at the time looked like the highest-profile opponent on the Huskies’ schedule.

It did not go well, as Lynch had his worst game of the year. At the time, predicting an eventual Orange Bowl and breaking Denard Robinson’s NCAA single-season quarterback rushing record seemed unlikely.

“Maybe I was a little bit nervous but more anxious,” Lynch said. “I was too jacked up to play that game. I missed a lot of throws I should have made and there were a lot of things I could have done better.

“Again, it was my first start and it is not an excuse. I have 14 starts under my belt now and I’m a way better player than I was.”

When Iowa redshirt sophomore Jake Rudock makes his first start Saturday against Northern Illinois, no matter what happens he can just look across the sideline and understand it can and possibly will get better for him.

Some of that will come through repetition, but in Rudock, Iowa thinks it has its quarterback solution. Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis said Rudock’s intelligence helped him win the job -- he eventually wants to be a doctor -- along with his ability to make every throw asked.

While Davis said there’s a chance Iowa would play multiple quarterbacks early in the season -- not a guarantee but a possibility -- Rudock stood out this fall.

“Jake immediately went to the head of the pack after the summer,” Davis said. “Obviously he’s been here two full years. He had a little jump maybe on some of the things we asked of our quarterback.

“He never backed off and continued to do things in camp that we liked.”

Still, Saturday will be a nervous day for Rudock, who hasn’t played in a game since he was a high school senior in 2010. When Iowa’s coaches announced last week he would be the starter, he realized how big that really was.

“I had a slight smirk, a slight smile,” Rudock said. “And also the realization that, hey, you need to get going and nothing is ever set in stone. Leading up to (the announcement), you start feeling like, ‘OK, I got it.’

“You’re confident you got it but you know it is just one day and you have to focus on things.”

But he did notice what happened to Lynch last season in the opener, as Lynch completed 6 of 16 passes for 54 yards with 119 yards rushing in a 18-17 loss. Then he saw what Lynch did after.

That game -- and the Orange Bowl loss -- still bother Lynch. It’s why he said he didn’t reflect much on last season other than the day after the Orange Bowl. He knew he needed to improve things such as his footwork on his throws and how he commands the offense.

Lynch’s progression mirrors Northern Illinois’. He -- and the Huskies -- had a breakout season last year. Yet since the Orange Bowl, changes have been incremental. Rod Carey is now in his first full season as a head coach, although he couldn’t think of a true tangible thing since the end of last season which symbolized last season's breakthrough success.

“Our indoor (facility) is almost done, but that was underway before we went to the Orange Bowl so that’s not quite fair to say because we were getting that before the Orange Bowl,” Carey said. “But the indoor is almost done, so that’s always fun. That’s a good question.”

Carey eventually came up with being noticed a little more when he went to dinner with his wife and more media attention. His quarterback gets the same. Lynch gets noticed a little bit more around campus in DeKalb, Ill., but he isn’t hounded for autographs like someone who broke four NCAA records last season would be at a big school such as Iowa.

This all makes Saturday more interesting for NIU. The Huskies had the better season last year. They have the more experienced quarterback in Lynch, a potential Heisman Trophy candidate.

This will be the most high-profile game NIU plays this season. This was one of two games it lost last season, something which still bothers Lynch. If there was something he took from last season's run to now, it's that he's sick of coming close against big schools.

“Our motto this year is ‘Finish the Fight,’ “ Lynch said. “It’s not good enough anymore to come close to these Big Ten teams or BCS teams and lose by a point. That’s not good enough for us anymore.

“We want to finish these games and walk out with a victory.”