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College Football Season Bowl

NIU No. Illinois (11-3) 38
ASU Arkansas St. (10-3) 20

Bowl Index

Game Recap Staff
January 9, 2012

Mobile, Alabama - Arkansas State controlled the opening 10 minutes, but Northern Illinois dominated the rest of the Bowl on Sunday night as the Huskies bit the Red Wolves 38-20.

NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish threw for 270 yards but lost 7 on the ground, failing in his bid to become the first quarterback to thrown for 3,000 yards and run for 1,500 in the same season.

Arkansas State scored on its first three possessions as Brian Davis kicked field goals of 33 and 36 yards, followed by a 2-yard run by quarterback Ryan Alpin.

Northern Illinois answered Alpin's run with a 9-yard scoring pass from Harnish to Perez Ashford late in the first quarter. The Huskies took their first lead on a 3-yard Jordan Lynch touchdown with 4:49 to go in the half, and padded the lead on the final play of the half on Jamal Womble's 1-yard run.

The story of the game became turnovers as Arkansas State committed five and NIU had one. The Huskies scored 20 points off of those turnovers and the Red Wolves handed their interception back 3 plays later.

This would have been a battle of first-year head coaches, but the Red Wolves' Hugh Freeze is one-and-done after filling the vacancy at Ole Miss. Offensive coordinator David Gunn was named interim head coach for the bowl game. Gus Malzahn, Arkansas' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Auburn for the past three seasons, now takes over the reins.

Freeze led Arkansas State to a 6-win improvement over the previous season's 4-8 finish. In the process, the Red Wolves captured their first outright Sun Belt title and gained their first 10-win season (10-3, 8-0) since 1986. Freeze had been promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach when Steve Roberts resigned at the end of the 2009 season. The Red Wolves were co-champions of the conference in 2005 under Roberts, but never posted better than a 6-6 regular season record during his 9 years in Jonesboro.

As a high school coach in Memphis, Freeze coached Michael Oher whose story was told in the award-winning feature film, "The Blind Side".

Dave Doeren is in his first year at Northern Illinois which didn't miss a beat after losing Jerry Kill to Minnesota after the 2010 season. NIU was 11-3 in Kill's final year with interim head coach Tom Matukewicz getting the 11th win with a 40-17 victory over Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl. The Huskies also played in the 2010 MAC title game but lost to Miami (Ohio).

This season under Doeren, the Huskies claimed a 23-20 comeback victory over Ohio in the MAC Championship game to earn their second-ever MAC crown and first since 1983. The win boosted Northern Illinois' bowl record to 4-3.

Arkansas State fell to 0-2 in bowl games.

Sun Belt teams are now 6-5 all-time in bowl games over the last five years while MAC teams are 6-3 over the last two seasons after going 1-12 the previous three years. Sun Belt teams are winless in bowls (0-3) while the MAC is 7-3 all-time in this game.

Arkansas State had an extreme statistical advantage on defense coming into the game. The Red Wolves ranked 22nd in total "d", 14th in points allowed and 8th in total rushing yards allowed. Conversely, Northern Illinois was 89th in total defense and scoring defense.

The Congrove Computer Rankings at give Northern Illinois a 0.66-point advantage for the computer's 3rd-closest projected margin of all 35 bowl games this season. Fan poll voters at split their vote 50-50.


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