The victory over Northern Illinois (6-7) marks a quick turnaround under coach Derek Dooley, former protege of Nick Saban and son of iconic Georgia coach and athletic director Vince Dooley. As his father did, Dooley won his first bowl. And just like dad, he used special teams, defense and the running game to prevail.
"They went out as champions," Dooley said. "That was our goal, to go out as champions."
Two seasons ago the Bulldogs won three games, but they earned their first bowl trip since the 2001 Humanitarian Bowl in a topsy-turvy season that started with an upset of Mississippi State and ended with a surprise trip to the Shreveport when neither the Southeastern Conference nor the Big 12 could provide bowl-eligible teams.
Despite criticism of the matchup and a bloated bowl schedule, both teams were excited about the invitation and the chance to play the only college game of the day. Fans looking for excitement, especially those from DeKalb, Ill., needed to tune in early.
Much of the scoring and all the big plays came in the first half. Northern Illinois dominated the first quarter with advantages of 11:46 to 3:14 in time of possession and 125-23 in total yards in the first quarter. The Huskies scored on Chandler Harnish's 8-yard pass to fullback Kyle Skarb in the left flat, his fifth straight completion for 53 yards on the drive.
But poor special teams helped erase the Huskies' advantage. First, Livas broke a tackle at midfield and shook Chase Carter at the 30 with a dynamic stop-and-go move on the ensuing kickoff. It was the eighth non-offensive touchdown of the season for the Bulldogs, moving them into tie for the most in major college football. It also was the second longest kickoff return for a touchdown in the Independence Bowl and the first since Mississippi's Deuce McAllister did it in 1998.
"It's been our formula all year — a big play on special teams to get us going," Dooley said.
After three quick offensive plays, Northern Illinois tried to avoid Livas on the punt, but Mike Salernos shanked a rugby-style kick for 15 yards. Louisiana Tech took over at the Huskies' 42 and got help with a 15-yard facemask penalty on Larry English on a 24-yard pass to Porter.
Porter carried it in from 11 yards out off left tackle for a 14-7 lead with 1:19 gone in the second quarter.
Northern Illinois had a chance to tie the game just before halftime, but defensive back Weldon Brown hit Harnish as he threw toward the end zone. It was his fourth big play of the half for Brown and led to Deon Young's interception.
Greg Turner's fumble on a punt return ended another chance for the Huskies, though Mike Krause blocked the Bulldogs' ensuing field goal try.
The teams traded field goals on their first possessions of the second half, then played to a stalemate the rest of the way.
Louisiana Tech managed only 236 total yards and Porter had his string of 100-yard rushing games snapped at four. Northern Illinois had 339, with Harnish going 20-for-40 for 186 yards.
It appeared that Northern Illinois would mount a late drive after a Krause fumble recovery, but Brown finished off the Huskies with an interception. He also had a fumble recovery that led to a field goal attempt, forced a fourth-and-1 with a key tackle inside the 20, then knocked down the ensuing pass. Brown finished with 14 tackles.