Carey, NIU ready for Miami


Carey, NIU ready for Miami

DEKALB -- George Rainey admitted sleep was a little hard to come by on Christmas night.

But the Northern Illinois defensive end was alert and smiling early Wednesday as Orange Bowl reality set in as the Huskies began a nearly 1,300-mile trip to Miami in pre-dawn darkness.

"I was so excited that I couldn't really sleep at all," said Rainey, a redshirt junior from Milwaukee as he boarded one of six buses carrying players and staff to Rockford Airport. "But I'm wide awake."

Fifteenth-ranked Northern Illinois (12-1) plays on the biggest stage in program history when it meets No. 12 Florida State (11-2) at Sun Life Stadium on New Year's Day.

"I'm expecting to have fun, expecting a new experience, something new for all of us," said Rainey, who recorded 24 tackles in 12 games, including 2 12 sacks. "(And) we'll be playing in warm weather."

Temperatures were predicted in the low 80s in Miami, a big contrast to DeKalb where it was windy and in the upper 20s early Wednesday.

Dawn was still two hours away as the Huskies gathered at a far west campus parking lot for the ride to Rockford and a charter flight to Florida.

Buses were already nearly filled at 5:10 a.m. and the final stragglers boarded over the next 20 minutes.

The nearby Convocation Center was bathed in orange lights as head coach Rod Carey briefly stepped out of his bus to check on arriving players.

"They're excited to be up this early and at 'em," said Carey, named NIU head coach nearly three weeks ago after Dave Doeren's departure for North Carolina State. "Everyone's looking forward to it. We'll have a little reception down there and go right to practice. There's a sense that they want to get this going."

Carey spent the last two years on Doeren's staff and served as offensive coordinator this season after Mike Dunbar stepped away to concentrate on a battle against cancer. Carey will continue to call offensive plays for the Orange Bowl.

The NIU caravan rolled out at 5:31 a.m. to catch a scheduled 7:45 a.m. flight. The Huskies were set to arrive in Miami around 11:30 a.m., then hold the first of five practice sessions at Barry University in Miami Shores.

But it won't be all work for Northern Illinois.

A Thursday beach party is planned at the Fontainebleau Beachfront in Miami Beach. Other days will feature dinner outings, a prayer breakfast, a hospital visit by players and a series of press conferences and receptions.

Winners of a school record 12 straight games, the Mid-American Conference champs bring the nation's No. 9 scoring offense (40.77 points per game) against the Seminoles' No. 6 scoring defense (15.08 points).

The Huskies will play in a postseason bowl for the seventh time in the last eight seasons, but never one so lofty. They are first MAC team to appear in a major Bowl Championship Series game and meet Florida State, the Atlantic Coast champ, for the first time.

NIU is 3-6 all-time against teams from the Sunshine State and 2-6 against current members of the ACC.

The Orange Bowl kicks off at 8 p.m. (Eastern) next Tuesday and will be televised nationally on ESPN.

Bears Grades: Defense wears down under assault from Aaron Rodgers and Packers

Bears Grades: Defense wears down under assault from Aaron Rodgers and Packers

GREEN BAY, Wisc. — It was a bright spot, a small one on an otherwise dismal night of losing to the Green Bay Packers. But it was at least something.

After struggling for months to stay healthy and gain NFL weight, Leonard Floyd finally played like the ninth-overall pick of an NFL draft.

The rookie outside linebacker collected a sack in the first half, then exploded past Green Bay right tackle Brian Bulaga as part of stunt with fellow linebacker Willie Young on the third play of the second quarter for a second sack of Aaron Rodgers, one that came with a strip of the football and recovery in the end zone.

"We had a great play called,” Floyd said. “Willie came down and picked the guard for me and I looped around and the play was done and I made it. It felt great [to get a touchdown], but at the end of the day I wanted a win."

That was one of the very few bright spots as the Packers piled up 311 yards through three quarters, at times using wide receivers Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery as running backs because of injuries. The drumbeat continued with touchdowns on three straight Green Bay possessions in the late third and early fourth quarters.

The defense has allowed 23 or more points in five of seven games this season, with the Packers rolling off consecutive touchdown drives of 85, 84 and 57 in the second half as the Bears were limited to 2:49 time of possession in the fourth quarter.

“It helps when you’re playing [defense], to actually have a little bit of a break,” head coach John Fox said. “Unfortunately in the second half, I think that probably caught up with us a little bit.”

The defense had its fullest complement of personnel yet this season, with outside linebackers Floyd and Pernell McPhee both active (McPhee for the first time this year following offseason knee surgery), in addition to starting cornerbacks Bryce Callahan and Tracy Porter, both of whom were injured during the Jacksonville game. It was not enough.

[BEARS GRADES: Quarterback woes take offense to new low in loss to Packers]

Defensive line: F

The interior of the line was quiet for most of the game, with wide receivers lining up as running backs averaged more than five yards per carry. Cornelius Washington had the only hit by a defensive lineman on Rodgers as the line rarely collapsed the pocket with center-push or even kept him in the pocket.

Linebacker: B-

Floyd started after two games inactive and a zero stat sheet vs. Detroit. He struggled too often getting disengaged from Green Bay left tackle David Bakhtiari at the outset before breaking through with second effort for his first career solo sack. That was topped by the strip-sack and recovery for a touchdown in the third quarter. Floyd had a third hit on Rodgers and a tackle for loss.

"It is very tough,” Floyd said. “He gets the ball out pretty quickly. You just have to keep rushing every snap. He is at his best when he is scrambling around playing backyard football."

McPhee was a welcome addition to a slumping defense, even in his limited capacity (19 snaps). McPhee was not credited with any tackles but was surprisingly fast off the ball initially, and got penetration to alter running lanes and some pressure on Rodgers, although he appeared to slow somewhat, not unexpected considering how limited he has been throughout the year because of the surgery.

Sam Acho provided some edge pressure with two hits on Rodgers and a pass deflected. Jerrell Freeman had a quarterback hit and delivered a game-high 13 tackles.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Secondary: D

The secondary was forced to cover long into plays because of absent pressure on Rodgers but the coverage had its own problems with an offense that threw 56 times but was never intercepted. Three Green Bay receivers totaled double-digit receptions: Davante Adams (13), Cobb (11) and Montgomery (10).

Cre’Von LeBlanc started at corner as the Bears opened with six defensive backs, and delivered a goal-line stop in the first quarter, stuffing Montgomery, who was used as a running back because of injuries to the Green Bay backfield. LeBlanc finished with seven tackles and a hit blitzing Rodgers.

Porter matched up with Jordy Nelson and allowed the Green Bay wideout just one catch on four targets through three quarters. But breakdowns were deadly, allowing the Packers to stage their two longest scoring drives of the season in the second half. The second came when Porter and safety Harold Jones-Quartey both covered the same man in the end zone early in the fourth quarter, leaving Adams alone for his second TD catch of the game.

Adrian Amos interfered with Nelson to give the Packers a 44-yard penalty pickup in the first quarter. De’Vante Bausby had a number of solid plays despite a lack of meaningful pressure from the front. But Bausby had two holding penalties on the Packers’ second fourth-quarter scoring drive.

"There were a lot of penalties out there.,” Bausby said. “We had a good scheme and plan, but we just didn't finish in the second half as a group. Facing Rodgers is a challenge, but I felt like our play calling was excellent. We just didn't finish."

Special teams: B

Connor Barth converted from 39 yards to tie the game in the second quarter. It was Barth’s seventh in his last eight attempts. Pat O’Donnell turned in another strong night punting, averaging 43.8 net on five punts. Coverage helped keep three of those inside the 20.

Bears Talk Podcast: What's next for Bears at QB after Brian Hoyer suffers broken arm?


Bears Talk Podcast: What's next for Bears at QB after Brian Hoyer suffers broken arm?

Lance Briggs, Alex Brown and Jim Miller break down where the Bears go at QB following Brian Hoyer’s injury and evaluate the defense’s gutsy performance on Thursday night against the Packers despite numerous injuries. Plus, a look at the big picture and who can help the Bears down the road.

Check out the latest edition of the Bears Talk Podcast here: