Coming into the 2014 postseason, the Big Ten as a conference was looking to get back some of the respect its lost over the last several years. After Game 1? Hey, at least there are nine, possibly 10 more remaining.
It wasn’t pretty as mistakes in all three phases littered the playing field, but Louisiana Tech, which had jumped out to a 21-9 halftime lead, was able to pull away to a 35-18 win over Illinois in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl. The win marks Tech’s first bowl victory since the 2008 season, and their ninth win this year after winning just four in 2013.
Were it not for one key fourth-quarter sequence, though, it might’ve been the Illini doing some postseason celebrating for the first time since 2011.
With just over nine minutes remaining and trailing 21-18, the Illini forced a fumble at around the Tech 40-yard line that was recovered by Jihad Ward and returned to the Tech 16-yard line. However, Ward fumbled before he went down and the ball was recovered by, oddly enough, quarterback Cody Sokol, the player who originally fumbled it. Five plays later, one of which was a 70-yard pass to Carlos Henderson, a Kenneth Dixon one-yard touchdown run with 6:15 remaining stretched the lead to 28-18 and essentially put the game out of reach.
The scoring icing on the cake was a 28-yard touchdown run by Blake Martin with 3:43 remaining.
While Sokol completed just 14 passes, he threw for 247 yards. Dixon ended up scoring twice, one each rushing and receiving, in accumulating 142 yards from scrimmage.
Sokol’s counterpart, Reilly O’Toole, took a severe, game-long beating but still passed for 295 yards and a touchdown.
Houston Bates, who transferred from Illinois to Tech earlier this year, totaled 4.5 sacks in the game, with another being wiped out late in the game by a penalty. The senior came into the game with 5.5 this season.
While the Big Ten is 0-1, Conference USA moved to an impressive 4-1 with Tech’s win. Through 11 bowl games, that conference as well as the ACC (1-0) are the only ones that are above .500.