Northern Illinois linebackers coach Tom Matukewicz decided to make his 15 minutes of fame fun after being named interim head coach for the Huskies Humanitarian Bowl game against Fresno State.
After all, things were in the dumper after winning 9 straight games before their Mid-American Conference championship game at 10-2 and quickly losing 26-21 to Miami of Ohio. Two days later, his head coach Jerry Kill proved to be a killjoy by leaving to become Minnesota’s new coach in the Big Ten.
No matter. “Tuke” (his players nickname for MaTUKEwicz) is Polish, he knows how to party. If you’ve ever attended a Polish funeral, you know how to have fun after burial. Tuke gave a new meaning to the expression, “let go, mother goose.”
He was joking until the start of the Humanitarian Bowl, and boy, did his Huskies respond by kicking the living filler straight from the Fresno State Bulldogs with a 40-17 victory, giving Northern Illinois a school-record 11th victory. to end your season on a high note.
Never speechless, Tuke said, “We better start next season in the top 25. If you have a vote, put us there.”
When next season begins, Northern Illinois’ new head coach will be Dave Doeren, current fourth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers (11-1) defensive coordinator, who will face TCU (12-0) in the Rose Bowl on new Year’s Day. Day. Tuke will remain as linebackers coach.
At the very least, Tom Matukewicz has a perfect record (1-0) as head coach of a major varsity team, and with a bowl win to boot.
Husky players were effusive in crediting Tuke’s humor with keeping them loose and focused for their bowling game, and it showed in their game.
Chandler Harnish (nominated by the most unlikely name of a college football quarterback) ran for two touchdowns and threw for another when Northern Illinois won its first bowl game since 2004. He was 17 of 26 (65%) while passing 300 yards. and added another 72 yards on the ground. Harnish, a junior, is ranked 15th nationally in passing efficiency.
Husky’s offensive line kept Fresno State’s defensive run away from Harnish, allowing for two great circus catches: a Perez Ashford start to the sideline and a 32-yard midway adjustment from Willie Clark. It was sweet for northern Illinois.
Husky’s running back Chad Spann rolled for 95 yards and two touchdowns, giving him 22 rushing touchdowns for the season, tying Oregon LaMichael James and Nevada’s Vai Taua for the national lead in scoring.
While the final score may have been 40-17, Northern Illinois dominated Fresno State as the Huskies scored on 7 straight possessions and never had to punt in the game.
And the Husky defense? I’m glad you asked. They sacked Bulldog quarterback Ryan Colburn 6 times, including 3 by Jake (you can call him “The Animal”) Coffman. They also held Fresno running back Robbie Rouse to 32 yards; Rouse ran nearly 300 yards in one game this year.
Fresno State ended the year at 8-5; Northern Illinois at 11-3.
A pair of freshman quarterbacks, Brigham Young’s Jake Heaps and Troy’s Corey Robinson, shone brightly as they joined Northern Illinois to lead their teams to victory on the same day in two other bowl games.
Jake Heaps, a true freshman and one of the best quarterback recruits in college football, helped BYU beat UTEP (Texas-El Paso), 52-24, in the New Mexico Bowl. Last year, Heaps led Skyline High School to its third consecutive 4A (big school) championship in Washington state. He passed for 9,196 yards and 114 touchdowns in his preparatory career.
Heaps, who shared QB time with Riley Nelson before getting injured, initially struggled as a starter, but his finish couldn’t have been better.
The BYU Cougars finished 1-4 to open the season and get to a bowl game, let alone win one, seemed unlikely but, with everything in Heaps, they finished 5-2 to be bowl eligible at 6-6.
Jake Heaps completed 7 of his first 9 passes, and the 2 that were left incomplete were passes that should have been caught by receivers. At the end of games, Heaps completed 25 of 34 (73%) for 264 yards and 4 touchdowns; Cody Hoffman caught 3 of them for 31, 29 and 3 yards.
All 4 TD passes gave Heaps 15 for the year, breaking Ty Detmer’s 22-year record as a freshman. Detmer played 14 years in the NFL for 6 different teams.
Heaps, who became the first freshman to start for BYU in the Cougars’ 29 bowl game appearances, was named Offensive Player of the Game of the New Mexico Bowl. Not bad at all for a true 6-foot-2, 205-pound freshman. He is also tough. Heaps played with a broken rib that he received in BYU’s last game loss 17-16 on the road in Utah.
Mike Price and his UTEP miners had the opposite experience this season: They started the season 5-1 but finished 1-6. UTEP reached a bowl game for the first time since 2005, but fell to 0-5 in bowl game since defeating Mississippi 14-7 in the 1967 Sun Bowl.
Corey Robinson, a freshman in a red shirt, learned his lessons well. It had to be tough for Robinson to watch his freshman year after throwing for 5,872 yards and a national-record 91 touchdowns during his senior year at Lone Oak High School in Paducah (KY). Prep was intercepted only 4 times in 520 senior attempts, had 132 career TD passes and was named Kentucky’s best player.
Going into the New Orleans Bowl, Robinson had passed for 3,339 yards and 24 touchdowns. In the previous two games that Troy Trojans needed to stay competitive for his fifth straight Sun Belt Conference title, Robinson completed 51 of 73 (70%) for 628 yards and 5 TDs.
He didn’t disappoint against an 8-4 Ohio team, going 23 of 29 (79%) for 285 yards and 4 touchdowns in the first half as Troy built a 38-7 lead and the Bobcats were toast. Ohio needed to play well on defense and control the ball on offense, and it couldn’t do either.
Troy won the New Orleans Bowl, 48-21, and left Ohio coach Frank Solich wondering what happened. Ohio’s all-time bowling record remains winless at 0-5.
Robinson would finish the game 32 of 42 (76%) for 387 yards. He had exceptional great support.
Senior wide receiver Tebiarus Gill had a New Orleans Bowl record of 3 TD catches for 31, 26 and 17 yards. Senior teammate Jerrel Jernigan had a 16-yard touchdown catch. Ohio made a big mistake trying to cover Troy’s man-to-man receivers. Troy finished with 602 yards of offense, another New Orleans Bowl record.
The Trojans dominated so much that they didn’t clear until the 4th quarter. Troy outplayed Ohio’s defense in the first two quarters, building up a 371 lead at 39 yards. Corey Robinson, the 6-foot, 220-pound red-shirt freshman, was named the Most Valuable Player.
While it’s rare for a true freshman or red-shirt freshman to win a bowl game, it does prove a point: You can’t train a kid to be talented, but when a player is talented, you can. help you realize your potential.
Let it be said here and now: both Jake Heaps and Corey Robinson are talented. If in doubt, ask UTEP coach Mike Price or Ohio coach Frank Solich.
Copyright © 2010 Ed Bagley