Northern Illinois returns to a familiar setting Dec. 26 when the Huskies play Duke in the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field.
Northern Illinois (8-4) has made numerous trips to the Motor City in past years to play for the Mid-American Conference championship, the last time coming two years ago when it lost to Bowling Green in the game annually played in early December. The Huskies earned the right to lift the MAC championship trophy at Ford Field three times from 2010-14.
This will be Northern Illinois’ first bowl trip to Ford Field.
So, how did Northern Illinois reach the Quick Lane Bowl? Well, simply put its 35-31 comeback win over Western Michigan in late November did the trick. The Broncos failed to protect a 31-28 fourth-quarter lead in DeKalb, Illinois, which ultimately put the Huskies into the bowl game and the Broncos (6-6) to the sidelines during the holiday season.
And, sophomore defensive end Sutton Smith can be congratulated for getting the Huskies in, returning a fumble 58 yards for a touchdown in the comeback win.
Smith was named MAC Defensive Player of the Year, and for good reason since he led the nation in both sacks (14) and tackles for loss (28.5).
Northern Illinois linebacker Jawuan Johnson is special too, forcing a fumble and returning an interception 37 yards for a score to give the Huskies a 17-0 halftime lead before an eventual 31-24 loss at Central Michigan on Nov. 24.
Duke had a rollercoaster season that ended with two straight wins.
“We are honored and delighted to be chosen to participate in the Quick Lane Bowl,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe told the school’s website. “I could not be happier for a group of young men who had their backs against the wall heading into the final two weeks of the season, fought through the adversity, and now will reap the benefits of their hard work and commitment to this program.
“We have great respect for what the Northern Illinois program stands for. At Duke, we take great pride in representing the Atlantic Coast Conference, and we’ll embrace the challenge of competing against an excellent Mid-American Conference squad.”
Duke had a strong start to the season, winning four straight games over North Carolina Central, Northwestern, Baylor and rival North Carolina.
However, the Blue Devils then experienced a six-game losing streak, dropping four by seven points or less before rebounding to defeat Georgia Tech and Wake Forest to become bowl eligible.
Duke has a strong running attack, piling up 319 in the win over Georgia Tech with 6-foot-1, 200-pound freshman Brittain Brown rushing for 116 yards. Sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones has thrown for 2,439 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Jones was at his best in Duke’s best performance, a 41-17 rout of Northwestern back in September when he threw for 305 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 108 yards and two scores.
It was total domination for Duke in the win over Northwestern, which held a 538-191 advantage in total yards while owning the ball for more than 41 minutes.
Quick Lane Bowl
Who: Northern Illinois (8-4) vs. Duke (6-6)
When: Dec. 26 at 5:15 p.m.
Where: Ford Field, Detroit
Notable: Duke dominated a Northwestern team that defeated Michigan State. Northern Illinois will play at Ford Field for the seventh time this decade, a place where it has won three MAC championships.
Tickets: Start at $29 and are available at quicklanebowl.com or by calling 877-212-8898.