Kenneth Dixon

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Will Navy QB Keenan Reynolds reclaim NCAA touchdown record?

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Two Saturdays ago in the Army-Navy Game, Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds set the NCAA Division 1 record for career touchdowns by picking up his 85th touchdown. That record lasted all of one week. On Saturday night in New Orleans, Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon upped the record total by two with four touchdowns in a New Orleans Bowl victory over Arkansas State, giving him 87 career touchdowns in his final game of his collegiate career.  The four-touchdown performance was a New Orleans Bowl record.

So now Reynolds is down by two touchdowns with one more game to play. Navy will take on Pittsburgh in the Military Bowl next week, and the game will be played in Navy’s home stadium in Annapolis. Reynolds must score twice to tie the record he set the last time he was on the field, and three to reclaim sole ownership of the record. This season, Reynolds has scored at least three touchdowns in a game three times this season. Reynolds had a five-touchdown game against East Carolina, four touchdowns against SMU and three against Connecticut. Reynolds also had four games with at least three touchdowns accounted for in 2014, so he clearly has three touchdowns in him.

Will Pittsburgh give up three touchdowns? While Pat Narduzzi is having some progress being made with the program, the defense has given up 21 points seven times this season, including 29 to Miami and 34 to Louisville in the final two regular season games of the season. So yes, there is a chance Reynolds can reclaim the record in his final college football game, but it may not come too easily. Navy may go out of their way to try to give him the record if the opportunity presents itself, but odds are Reynolds would be just as happy handing off to a teammate if it means Navy ends the year with a bowl victory.

Illini kicks off B1G bowl season with loss to LaTech

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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.

Illini trailing LaTech by double digits despite doubling-up on yards

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It’s not often the case that a team that’s nearly doubled up its opposition in total offense finds itself on the wrong end of a double-digit lead.

Yet that’s the situation Illinois finds itself in Friday afternoon, trailing Louisiana Tech 21-9 despite an overwhelming 291-154 advantage in total offense.  There were three big problems for the Illini, though: penalties, turnovers and shooting themselves in the kicking foot.

On the former front, the Illini were flagged eight times for 53 yards; Tech was only penalized once for five yards.  On the latter front, it was a pair of missed field goals and an extra point as well as a botched opening kickoff that added to the Illini’s misery.  And the turnovers?  It was actually turnover, singular, but it was a huge one: with the Illini driving toward missed field-goal range, a Reilly O’Toole pass — with a blatant hold on the receiver by the defense going uncalled — was intercepted and returned 69 yards for a touchdown by Xavier Woods.

Tech came into the game leading the nation in turnovers forced, with the pick-six increasing that total to 41.  It was also the Bulldogs’ fifth defensive touchdown of the season.

Another issue for the Illini?  Tech running back Kenneth Dixon took a perfectly-executed wheel route and turned it into an 80-yard touchdown.  Dixon finished the first half with 115 yards from scrimmage.

Houston Bates, who transferred from Illinois to Tech earlier this year, had three first-half sacks.  The senior came into the game with 5.5 this season.

Rakeem Cato’s late heroics leads Marshall to Conference USA title

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A week after their big bowl dreams appeared to go up in flames with an offensive shootout and overtime loss at home to Western Kentucky, Marshall may still be in the mix.

Marshall (12-1, 7-1 Conference USA) needed its star quarterback to make a play, and Rakeem Cato delivered.  On second and goal from the Louisiana Tech (8-5, 7-1 Conference USA) five-yard line, Cato completed a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone to Deon-Tay McManus for a go-ahead touchdown with just under two minutes to play. After securing its first lead of the afternoon, the defense went to work and Evan McKelvey picked off a pass from Cody Sokol on Louisiana Tech’s first play on the ensuing possession, thus wrapping up the win for the Conference USA championship. Marshall erased the pain of last year’s Conference USA championship game loss to Rice with a gutsy 26-23 victory in this year’s title game. Now, Marshall awaits its bowl fate.

It was far from a pretty performance by Marshall, playing at home, but the end result was all that truly mattered most. Cato was not particularly accurate at times, but he ended the day with 308 passing yards and two touchdowns to overcome a sluggish start and an interception. Offense tends to be the story for Marshall, but it was the defense that kept the game within reach for its offense and it was the defense that made some key plays. Marshall had four turnovers in the game, but the defense stood tall often enough.Louisiana Tech jumped out to a 17-7 lead midway through the second quarter, but the visiting Bulldogs scored just one other time in the game, late in the third quarter with

Louisiana Tech jumped out to a 17-7 lead midway through the second quarter, but the visiting Bulldogs scored just one other time in the game, late in the third quarter with Kenneth Dixon’s third touchdown of the game. Dixon was the only Louisiana Tech to contribute on offense, and he nearly carried the team to victory with 156 yards and three touchdowns. The rest of the team managed to add just 112 yards of offense against Marshall.

Marshall is now eligible for consideration in the College Football Playoff selection committee’s process to determine which Group of Five conference champion may be invited to a New Years Six Bowl. Boise State appears to be in the best position, and a win in the Mountain West Conference will likely wrap up that big bowl spot tonight. But if the Broncos stumble, the bowl invite could be there for 12-1 Marshall. Other teams in the running are Northern Illinois (won the MAC championship Friday night), Memphis, UCF and Cincinnati. The three AAC schools ended the year with a share of the conference title.

If Marshall is not chosen to play in the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl or Peach Bowl, then it will be likely the Thundering Herd are sent to either the Bahamas Bowl or Boca Raton Bowl or the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl may also be an option. Louisiana Tech should also expect to play in one of those three bowl games as well. Bowl arrangements will be finalized on Sunday.

Undermanned La Tech holding upper hand on Marshall at half

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Louisiana Tech may be playing without five starters due to an academic eligibility issue, but the Bulldogs are leading Marshall on the road in the Conference USA championship game at halftime. A sloppy start for Marshall has led to two turnovers, and the Bulldogs lead 17-13 at the break.

Louisiana Tech opened the scoring with a 26-yard field goal from Jonathan Barnes. Louisiana Tech had four plays inside the red zone but had to settle for the three points on its first offensive possession of the game. Later in the first quarter the Louisiana Tech defense recovered a fumble by Marshall’s Steward Butler at the Marshall 33-yard line. On the first play following the turnover, Kenneth Dixon took a handoff and found room for a 33-yard touchdown for a 10-0 lead. Dixon has rushed for 104 yards and two touchdowns in the half.

Rakeem Cato has completed nine of 20 pass attempts so far for 136 yards and a touchdown. The lone touchdown came on the first play of the second quarter, a pass to Deon-Tay McManus. Justin Haig has added a pair of field goals in the second quarter, both from at least 40 yards.

Marshall is playing for one last shot at a possible landing spot in the New Years Six bowl line-up, although the HErd may need a decent amount of help. Boise State appears to be in the driver’s seat and can wrap up the coveted invitation to the Fiesta Bowl, Peach Bowl or Cotton Bowl with a win in tonight’s Mountain West Conference championship. If Boise State tumbles, the door is open for Marshall with a win, or Northern Illinois or Memphis. Marshall may only have one loss with a win, but the perception of the overall body of work has been scrutinized in a negative fashion all season long.

But hey, win this game and then we’ll talk.