MIAMI — EJ Manuel completed 26 of 38 passes for 291 yards and accounted for two touchdowns, including a 9-yard run on the opening play of the fourth quarter as No. 13 Florida State was atop No. 16 Northern Illinois 24-10 at the Orange Bowl on Tuesday night.
Manuel also had a touchdown pass to Rashad Greene late in the first half for Florida State, bidding for a 12-win season for the first time since 1999.
Things came easily to Florida State in the first half, before Northern Illinois found a rhythm after the break.
Looking like they were on the cusp of getting embarrassed in their Bowl Championship Series debut, the Huskies clawed back into the game with a third-quarter rally. Jordan Lynch threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Martel Moore with 9:55 left in the third, getting the Huskies within a touchdown.
The Huskies, who were held to 110 yards in the first half, put up 128 in the third quarter alone – and could have had more if Lynch didn't make a mistake around the midpoint of the quarter.
Northern Illinois successfully executed an onside kick after the Moore touchdown catch, and Lynch had the Huskies driving on the ensuing possession until he forced a pass down the right sideline and into the waiting hands of Florida State's Terrence Brooks.
Florida State still held a commanding edge in yards after 45 minutes of play, 460-238.
Lonnie Pryor had a career-long 60-yard touchdown run to open the scoring for Florida State, and then Manuel led the Seminoles on a 10-play, 82-yard drive capped by Greene's stellar catch near the back of the end zone to close the half.
Florida State looked in full control in the first half after bottling up Lynch – who was seventh in this season's Heisman balloting, yet struggled mightily early against the Seminoles.
Lynch eclipsed the 3,000-yard passing mark for the season in the second quarter, making him the first player in NCAA history to throw for that many yards and rush for at least 1,500 more in the same campaign.
It was about the only highlight for Lynch in the opening 30 minutes.
The Huskies ran 30 plays in the first half, and Lynch had the ball for 28 of them – 15 passes, 12 rushes, one kneel-down to end the half, and extremely little success. Lynch was 4 for 15 passing for 52 yards, and had 24 rushing yards on 12 carries. He entered the game with 11 straight 100-yard rushing games, another first for a Football Bowl Subdivision player, and set an NCAA record for quarterbacks with 1,771 yards on the ground entering the game.
The only first-half plays Northern Illinois ran that Lynch wasn't directly involved with? A rush for no gain by Tommylee Lewis, and a 35-yard ramble by Desroy Maxwell on a fake punt that helped set up the Huskies' lone score, a 25-yard field goal late in the opening quarter.
But then in the third, Lynch settled down a bit, completing six of his 12 passes, including a 55-yarder to Akeem Daniels on 3rd-and-15 to help set up the Northern Illinois touchdown.
Northern Illinois busted into the Bowl Championship Series on the strength of a 12-game winning streak, becoming the first team from the Mid-American Conference to play in one of college football's biggest bowl games.
But even the Huskies acknowledged before kickoff that Florida State was unlike any opponent they've faced this season, and the Seminoles wasted little time showing that might be right. Pryor's touchdown was more than twice as long as any other rushing play allowed by Northern Illinois this season, which entered the game having not allowed a run of more than 28 yards.
The Huskies got on the board with 1:41 left in the half on Mathew Sims' 25-yard field goal, a score set up in large part by Maxwell getting free after taking a direct snap on the fake punt.
Pulling off that play was one two huge breaks Northern Illinois enjoyed in the opening quarter, the other being a fumble by Florida State tight end Nick O'Leary at the Huskies' 35-yard line to thwart an early Seminoles drive.
Florida State was the game's home team, which led to some unusual sights. First, the Seminoles were on the sideline usually occupied by their archrivals, the Miami Hurricanes. And secondly, Florida State also brought Renegade – its white horse – replete with a rider holding a flaming spear that was tossed into the turf, the traditional pregame scene when the Seminoles are in Tallahassee.
It was the matchup that easily sparked more debate than any other in the Bowl Championship Series this year. Florida State's trip to Miami was a lock after the Seminoles won the Atlantic Coast Conference – but Northern Illinois' berth was widely criticized by many.
"It's our motivation," Lynch said before the game. "We know what kind of team we are."