Dec. 26 Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
Louisiana Tech 35, Illinois 18
And You Care Because … Louisiana Tech pulled away in the fourth quarter capping off a 74-yard drive with a one-yard Kenneth Dixon touchdown run and putting it away with a 28-yard Blake Martin run for 14 unanswered points and the win. The Bulldogs got up 14-3 on a 16-yard Jarred Craft run and an 80-yard pass play to Dixon, but Illinois controlled things in the middle part of the game with Jon Davis catching a 25-yard touchdown pass and Donovonn Young running for a three-yard score, but Reilly O’Toole was picked off by Xavier Woods for a 69-yard touchdown to keep Tech ahead. Illinois pulled to within three on a 43-yard David Reisner field goal, but the Bulldogs owned the last ten minutes.
What Else? Louisiana Tech RB Kenneth Dixon ran 13 times for 63 yards and a score, and caught four passes for 79 yards and a touchdown
- Illinois QB Reilly O’Toole completed 24-of-39 passes for 295 yards and a score with a pick
- Total yards: Illinois 451 – Louisiana Tech 361
- Third down conversions: Illinois 3-of-15 – Louisiana Tech 3-of-13
Game Rating: B-
By Pete Fiutak
1. The good news was that Illinois got to a bowl game. The bad news was that Illinois got to a bowl game, and it said right after the regular season that Tim Beckman would be back for another year. There was no excuse for this Illini loss. It’s not like the team wasn’t going to be interested – bowl games aren’t an automatic for the program – and it’s not like there aren’t the athletes in place to beat a Conference USA team after getting a month to prepare, but between the nine penalties, the two costly turnovers, the bizarre two-point conversion decision, and the collapse in the fourth, this wasn’t a ringing endorsement for the Beckman regime. Give Louisiana Tech credit for winning, but Illinois was Illinois, too.
By Rich Cirminiello
2. Houston, we have a career that’s come full circle.
La Tech defender Houston Bates got an unexpected Christmas gift this season, a chance to play his old buddies at Illinois. The hybrid rush end had no ill will toward his former team, and he enjoyed his time in Champaign. But with one final year of eligibility left, he wanted to spend it closer to his family in Louisiana. Lucky you, Bulldogs.
Bates used the Heart of Dallas Bowl to remind the Illini of his ability to collapse a pocket and harass a quarterback. He was virtually unblockable throughout the game, making seven tackles, 6.5 stops for minus yards and 5.5 sacks. It was a fitting exclamation point for a student-athlete whose blue-collar work ethic left an imprint on two different campuses.
Good win for Louisiana Tech. Illinois? Yeesh. It was an awful all-around performance that’ll ensure head coach Tim Beckman begins 2015 where he started 2014—under the microscope and firmly on the hot seat.
By Pete Fiutak
3. Check out Conference USA’s tremendous bowl season. UTEP lost to Utah State in the New Mexico Bowl, but Memphis beat up BYU, Marshall thundered Northern Illinois, Rice rolled over Fresno State, WKU hung on for dear life against Central Michigan, and now Louisiana Tech came up with one of the biggest wins of them all, beating a Big Ten team. Considering the problems the Mountain West is having so far, and with the MAC going 1-3 to start, this was an important postseason for a conference that’s been gutted over the last few years. Apparently, it could play – we all probably should’ve taken the league a little more seriously.
4. What’s next for Louisiana Tech
It was a resurgent year for the Bulldogs, and the potential is there to take another huge step forward if RB Kenneth Dixon is back. The O line returns four starters, and Ryan Higgins is a veteran quarterback who can replace Cody Sokol, but the key will be to find the depth for the passing game with options needed to help out Trent Taylor and Paul Turner.
The defense has a few key losses, but it returns Vernon Butler at tackle and enough options for the line to get into the backfield. Nick Thomason is a big-tackling linebacker, and safeties Kentrell Brice and Xavier Woods are back, but three of the top five tacklers are gone. Vontarrius Dora will be the spotlight pass rusher with Houston Bates done, but Tech gets to the quarterbacks from a variety of spots. Kickers Kyle Fischer and Jonathan Barnes are back along with punters Logan McPherson and Gerald Shouse.
5. What’s next for Illinois
Was this really the breakthrough season the program has been hoping for under Tim Beckman? The health of QB Wes Lunt will be the key to the 2015 plans. Josh Ferguson will become a bigger part of the running game, but the holes might not be there with three starters gone off the line. TE Jon Davis is finished, but the receiving corps should be a plus with all the key parts back including Mike Dudek.
The secondary has the potential to be the team’s biggest strength with depth, talent and playmakers. Now the Illini D has to come up with a pass rush after doing next to nothing for most of the year. The pressure will be on DE Jihad Ward to do more, but there are several prospects waiting to show what they can do with a bigger role. Leading tackler Mason Monheim is back in the linebacking corps along with T.J. Neal. Kickers David Reisner and Taylor Zalewski are back, but terrific punter Justin DuVernois is gone.
5 Thoughts On The Heart of Dallas Bowl
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