2014 Conference USA Bowl Games
Conference USA Football Champion Marshall leads five teams into bowl games, joined in the postseason by Louisiana Tech, Rice, UTEP and WKU.
Marshall returns to the postseason for the third time in four years as the Thundering Herd will play in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl. Marshall, which lists 34 players from the state of Florida, is scheduled to play MAC Conference Champion Northern Illinois on Tuesday, Dec. 23. This will be the only matchup outside of the two College Football Playoff semifinals that will match conference champions. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. EST at FAU Stadium on the campus of C-USA member Florida Atlantic.
Louisiana Tech will play in the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl on Friday, Dec. 26 at historic Cotton Bowl Stadium. The Bulldogs return to bowl play after a one-year absence, facing a Big Ten foe. The West Division Champions defeated Army in a regular season game at Cotton Bowl Stadium last season.
Rice has accepted an invitation to play in the 2014 Hawai'i Bowl, marking the first time in program history that the Owls will make bowl appearances three years in a row. Rice will play Fresno State in the game, which will kick off at 8 p.m. (2 p.m. HST).
WKU enters postseason play on four-game winning streak when its represents C-USA in the inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl in Nassau, the first bowl game played outside of the United States or Canada since 1937. The Hilltoppers will face Central Michigan in the game, which kicks off at Noon EST/11 a.m. CST on ESPN. This will be just the second bowl game for a WKU program that is completing its sixth season at the FBS level. Their first bowl game was against Central Michigan in the 2012 Little Caesars Bowl.
UTEP has clinched its first winning season since 2005 and will play in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 20. The Miners, whose last bowl trip came in the 2010 New Mexico Bowl, will face Utah State from the Mountain West Conference.
2014-15 C-USA BOWL SCHEDULE
GILDAN NEW MEXICO BOWL (Albuquerque, NM)
Saturday, December 20
Utah State 21 UTEP 6
BOCA RATON BOWL (Boca Raton, FL)
Tuesday, December 23
Marshall 52 Northern Illinois 23
POPEYES BAHAMAS BOWL (Nassau, Bahamas)
Wednesday, December 24
WKU 49 vs. Central Michigan 48
HAWAI'I BOWL (Honolulu, HI)
Wednesday, December 24
Rice 30 Fresno State 6
ZAXBY'S HEART OF DALLAS BOWL (Dallas, TX)
Friday, December 26
Illinois 18 Louisiana Tech 35
Utah State 21 UTEP 6
Utah State stymied UTEPís vaunted ground game, and did just enough on offense to come away with a 21-6 win over the Miners in the ninth annual Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Saturday at University Stadium.
UTEPís first winning season in nine years ended with a 7-6 record.
The Aggies (10-4) took a 14-3 lead early in the third quarter, then allowed the Miners to cross midfield on just two of their six second-half drives. UTEP finished with 12 first downs, 275 yards of offense and 149 yards rushing. The Miners averaged 3.2 yards per carry, about right at the season average for Utah State opponents coming into the contest.
The Miners got on the board first. A 32-yard field goal by Jay Mattox with 3:10 remaining in the first quarter put UTEP ahead 3-0. The key play of the drive was a Jameill Showers roll out and 53-yard pass to Ian Hamilton on third and 10 from the UTEP 26-yard line.
Utah State answered with a big play of its own. Kent Myersí 48-yard rush on a first down at midfield lifted the Aggies into a 7-3 lead.
Both teams squandered scoring opportunities late in the second period. UTEP came up empty in the red zone as Mike Ruggles bobbled Nick Dooleyís snap on a 25-yard field goal attempt. Wildcat Ronald Butler came in at quarterback for Utah State and promptly rushed 61 yards to the UTEP 29-yard line. The Aggies moved another 18 yards, but couldnít cash in as Nick Diazís 28-yard field goal attempt was wide left.
Utah State built the 14-3 cushion on its first drive of the third quarter. The Aggies advanced 75 yards on seven plays, capped by Nick Vigilís three-yard scamper for a score. It was the third rushing score of the year for the star linebacker. Utah State had a 46-yard completion (Myers to JoJo Natson) and a 14-yard running play (Myers) on the series.
The Miners were finally able to get something going offensively in the fourth quarter when they marched 54 yards on 16 plays, and Mattox booted a 34-yard field goal to make it a one possession game. But Utah State put it away with a four-play, 65-yard scoring drive. Joe Hill put the exclamation point on the drive, and the game, with an 11-yard rush into the end zone.
Aaron Jones rushed 25 times for 88 yards to lead UTEP. Jones moved into 10th place on the Minersí career rushing list with 2,132 yards and ended the season with 1,321 yards, the fourth-top seasonal total in school annals. Jameill Showers, in his final college game, completed 13-of-24 passes for 126 yards. Hamilton recorded a game-high 79 receiving yards.
Myers threw for 68 yards and rushed for 70 to lead the Aggies. The UTEP defense kept the Miners in the game, yielding 347 yards. Adrian James spearheaded the Minersí defensive effort with seven tackles and a forced fumble.
The Miners were whistled for 75 penalty yards, their most under coach Sean Kugler.
Despite the tough finish, it was a season to remember for UTEP, which rebounded from a 2-10 campaign to make its first trip to a bowl game in four years.
Marshall 52 NIU 23
In a game held less than an hour away from their hometown, seniors Rakeem Cato (Miami) and Tommy Shuler (Miami), ignited the high-powered Marshall offense one final time.
The Herd became the first champions of the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, Florida Tuesday evening after a dominating 52-23 win over Northern Illinois. The game featured 19 seniors who played their final game for the Thundering Herd.
Marshall finished its season with a 13-1 record (7-1 C-USA), while NIU fell to 11-3 (7-1 MAC).
NIU started the scoring on its second possession with a seven-play, 67 yard scoring march with the culmination coming with Juwan Brescacin hauling in a strike from quarterback Drew Hare and turning up field for a 19-yard touchdown.
The lead lasted exactly 14 seconds; redshirt junior Deandre Reaves (Sterling, Va.) returned his first touchdown of the season, speeding 93 yards into the Huskies' end zone for the equalizer. The touchdown was Marshall's first kick-return TD since 2010 and the sixth longest in Herd history.
Just three plays later, the MU offense returned to the field and used just two minutes and 12 seconds to tack on another seven points. Quarterback Cato finished off a five play, 42 yard drive with a five-yard touchdown run. The drive saw him connect with longtime teammate Shuler three times, the last one placing Shuler first in Marshall history for receptions.
Marshall continued to control the half, taking advantage of a missed NIU field goal attempt to begin the second quarter. The Herd added to its lead with another three points, courtesy of senior Justin Haig (Delray Beach, Fla.). The 28-yarder was Haig's 42nd of his career, tying him for second all-time in the Marshall record books.
The Huskies responded with a 10-play, 64 yard drive but the Herd defense forced another field-goal attempt, this time good- cutting the Marshall lead to 17-10.
After another two minute drive featuring six plays, the Herd added seven to the scoreboard off of junior Devon Johnson's (Richlands, Va.) run to go up 24-10. The scoring drive featured a 13-yard run from Cato and allowed Shuler to turn in his 12th 100 yard receiving game of his career.
With under ten seconds remaining in the half, Marshall's defense forced another NIU field goal as the Herd took a 24-13 lead into the locker room.
The second half began scoreless until 10:49 in, when Marshall began a nine play, 56-yard scoring drive to add insurance and build its lead to 31-13. Cato connected with his favorite target of the night, as Shuler picked up his then eighth catch of the game. The duo's activity marked Cato's 46th consecutive game with a touchdown pass, an FBS record he broke earlier this season.
The Huskies' quickly responded, using just 1:49 and five plays to score its second touchdown of the game; a 24-yard rush from redshirt senior Cameron Stingily.
A quick response from Cato and crew resulted in the Herd increasing its gap once more; an 11-yard catch from Cato to redshirt freshman Angelo Jean-Louis (Wellington, Fla.) brought the score to 38-20.
Marshall turned right around and pinned another seven to the scoreboard; this time Cato hit awaiting target in redshirt freshman Deon-Tay McManus (Baltimore, Md.).
After another NIU field goal from kicker Christian Hagan, Cato danced into the end zone on a four-yard rush, intensifying the Marshall gap to 52-23 with 4:10 remaining in the game.
Cato's run was the Herd's final touchdown of the 2014 season, capping a remarkable career in the kelly green and white. He finished the game at 25-37 with 281 yards, three passing touchdowns, two rushing TDs, and no interceptions. Shuler turned in 18 catches for 185 yards with one touchdown.
Central Michigan 48 WKU 49
A miracle comeback for Central Michigan on a record-setting day by quarterback Cooper Rush fell just short at the inaugural Bahamas Bowl.
Down by 35 points with 12 minutes remaining, Central Michigan scored the final five touchdowns of the game, including a three-lateral, 75-yard dazzler on the final play. But WKU escaped with a 49-48 victory Wednesday when Rush's 2-point conversion pass fell incomplete.
Rush was officially credited with seven touchdown passes, a bowl record, in the first college football postseason game played outside the U.S. or Canada since Jan. 1, 1937. The last of his TD passes came on a wild sequence in which six Chippewas touched the ball.
"It was a roller-coaster ride," said WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty, who threw for five touchdowns and increased his nation-leading total to 49 on the season. "We were just lucky and blessed that we got the win."
The Chippewas got the ball on their own 25 with a second remaining after a punt, trailing 49-42. Rush threw deep to Jesse Kroll, who caught the ball between three Western Kentucky defenders at the Hilltoppers' 29. Kroll advanced the ball slightly before lateraling to Deon Butler, who got the ball to Courtney Williams just before getting tackled.
Williams then tossed the ball to Titus Davis, who caught it at the 15 and outran three Western Kentucky players to the end zone, reaching to knock over the pylon as he fell out of bounds to complete the bizarre play.
On the conversion pass for the win, Rush tried to find Kroll again, before the play was broken up by WKU's Wonderful Terry.
A wonderful finish, indeed.
"I want to tell Central Michigan that's one heck of a job by them," Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm said. "They showed the heart and spirit that this game is all about."
The ending largely overshadowed a huge day by Doughty, who threw for 486 yards.
Doughty completed 31 of 42 passes for the Hilltoppers (8-5) and capped the sixth-highest single-season touchdown total in major college football history.
Rush threw for 485 yards. He never had more than three touchdowns in a college game, and wound up being credited with five in the final 12 minutes for the Chippewas (7-6). Anthony Wales and Leon Allen added touchdown runs for the Hilltoppers.
Davis had three touchdown grabs and then was credited with a fourth on the final play for Central Michigan.
WKU got touchdowns on all six of its first-half possessions, with the average length of those drives being a mere 2 minutes, 9 seconds. The quick-strike Hilltoppers finished the season with 577 points, the average of 44.4 points ranking sixth-best among FBS teams in 2014 – and didn't punt for the first time on Wednesday until 10 minutes remained in the game.
Doughty and Rush exchanged touchdown passes on the game's first two possessions. After that, WKU went on a tear.
The Hilltoppers got the next three scores to go up 28-7, before Rush made a great play that figured to give the Chippewas a chance to stay in the game.
Facing a fourth-and-15 from the WKU 30 with 2:55 left in the half and on a drive where penalties had knocked Central Michigan out of field-goal range, Rush stepped up against a blitz and found Williams over the middle for a score to make it 28-14.
But the Hilltoppers got into the end zone twice more before the half, reclaiming full control.
Doughty had a shot at getting his 50th touchdown pass with about 6 minutes left on a 55-yard gain to McNeal, but he was stripped by Central Michigan's Joe Ostman. And not only did the record nearly slip away, but the game nearly did as well.
This game was the first of a planned run of at least six years of bowl matchups in the Bahamas. They'll be hard-pressed to see another one like this.
Rice 30 Fresno State 6
Driphus Jackson had his best game of the year by passing for 318 yards and three touchdowns, and Rice completed a remarkable turnaround with a 30-6 victory over Fresno State on Wednesday night in the Hawaii Bowl. The Owls (8-5) started the season at 0-3 and ended it with their second bowl win in the last three years.
Jackson was accurate with his arm, especially on two deep sideline routes, and dangerous with his feet. He rushed for 41 yards and some key scrambles out of trouble. The Owls got plenty of help from their defense.
Fresno State (6-8), the only team with a losing record to play a bowl game this year, broke its Hawaii Bowl record for fewest points. Fresno State scored 10 points two years ago in a lopsided loss to SMU. It was the fewest points Fresno State scored all year.
The Bulldogs lost to Rice for the first time – they had a 6-0 edge from their old WAC days – and dropped their sixth consecutive bowl game.
This one wasn't close.
Rice piled up 463 yards and held Fresno State to 93 yards passing, well below the Bulldogs' season average of 238 yards. Brian Burrell was 10 of 20 for 44 yards and didn't complete a pass longer than 8 yards.
The Owls had 96 yards on their opening possession and had to settle for a field goal after two penalties on one play – holding on Caleb Williams, and then Mario Hull was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for jamming an open palm in the face of cornerback Charles Washington during some trash talk. That made it first-and-goal from the 34, and the Owls got all the way down to the 4 before they had to settle for a field goal.
Even so, it set the tone for the Rice offense – and for the game.
Jackson was perfect on a fly route down the left side to Dennis Parks for 53 yards that led to his 14-yard scoring pass to Jordan Taylor. And after Burrell threw a deep interception, Jackson struck on the next play. He slightly underthrew a deep pass that Hull came back for, and then Hull turned and ran the last 25 yards for a 69-yard touchdown and a 16-3 right before the opening quarter ended.
The Bulldogs made enough defensive adjustments to hold Rice to one first down and 4 yards in the second quarter to at least stay in range. Their offense, however, offered little in return.
Fresno State was helped by a defensive holding call on fourth-and-7 to reach the 26, but it could only manage another field goal by Koedy Kroenig from 40 yards. Late in the first half and trailing 16-6, Fresno State again went for it on fourth-and-1 from the 18. Burrell threw a quick sideline pass to Greg Watson, only for Bryce Callahan to break through a block and drop him for a 3-yard loss that kept Rice up by 10 at intermission.
Callahan later picked off Burrell's deep throw, and that was the end of Burrell's night. He was replaced by Zack Greenlee, who was equally ineffective.
One drive effectively sealed the game for the Owls. Jackson worked the sidelines beautifully to complete four straight passes and move them down the field on their second drive of the third quarter. On third-and-2, he found Parks down the sideline. Parks stiff-armed linebacker Donavon Lewis and raced into the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown pass and a 23-6 lead.
It was Parks' first touchdown reception of the year, and he went over 100 yards receiving for the first time this season.
Rice padded the lead midway early in the fourth quarter when Jackson hit Darik Dillard on a screen in the left flat, and Dillard sped down to the 1, narrowly missing his stretch to the pylon. Dillard ran it in on the next play.
The Bulldogs got 76 yards on 15 carries from Marteze Waller, but that included runs of 41 and 16 yards.
Illinois 18 Louisiana Tech 35
Louisiana Tech ended the 2014 season as champions, earning a 35-18 win over the Illinois Fighting Illini to take home the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl trophy on Friday afternoon at Cotton Bowl Stadium.
Senior defensive end and former Illini Houston Bates earned Most Valuable Player honors with an NCAA Bowl and stadium record 5.5 tackles for loss, including 4.5 sacks on the day, which is the second most sacks in history in an FBS bowl game.
With the win over Illinois (6-7), LA Tech (9-5) posts the first bowl victory for the Bulldogs since winning the Independence Bowl in 2008. It marks the second time in three years LA Tech has tallied nine wins.
It was a 28-yard rush from Kenneth Dixon on Tech's second play that sparked the offense, giving Dixon the school record for career rushing yards as he surpassed Daniel Porter's previous mark of 3,352 career rushing mark. Dixon, a junior, finished the season with 1,299 rushing yards and 3,410 for his career.
The Bulldogs capitalized on Dixon's 28-yard gain when Jarred Craft broke off a 16-yard rush to the end zone midway through the first quarter to put LA Tech up 7-0 over Illinois. Prior to the touchdown, Tech's drive had stalled with a failed fourth-and-1 conversion, but a holding penalty on the Illini gave the Bulldogs a first down to set up the game's first score.
Illinois got on the board on the following drive to make it a 7-3 contest when Mike Dudek's 50-yard rush put the Illini at the Tech 22, but the Bulldog defense stood tall and forced a field goal thanks in part to a Bates sack on first and goal.
LA Tech's Dixon needed just one play to respond, as he caught an 80-yard pass from quarterback Cody Sokol to put the Bulldogs up 14-3 with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
After the Fighting Illini missed a field goal, they followed up by scoring their first touchdown of the game with 11:15 remaining in the second quarter, but a missed extra point made it a 14-9 game.
The Bulldog defense got in on the scoring action on Illinois' next drive, as defensive back Xavier Woods picked off his sixth pass of the year and returned it 69 yards to put the Bulldogs on top 21-9 heading into the half. It marked Woods' second pick six of the year, making him the 11th player in C-USA history to have multiple interception returns for touchdowns in a season.
After a touchdown and failed two-point conversion in the third quarter, the Illini pulled within three at the beginning of the fourth quarter thanks to David Reisner's 43-yard field goal.
Perhaps the turning point in the game occurred on the ensuing drive when Sokol was hit from behind and fumbled on a third down play, but he hustled down the field, and when Dixon forced Illinois to fumble it back to the Bulldogs, Sokol was there to recover. The Bulldogs then re-started the drive at their own 16 and once again found the end zone after Carlos Henderson's 70-yard catch moved LA Tech to the three-yard line before Dixon punched it in for the 28-18 lead. With that rushing touchdown, Dixon broke the school record for career rushing touchdowns (53).
The Bulldog defense then forced a three-and-out by Illinois, and the offense tacked on another touchdown with 3:43 to go, this time with Blake Martin rushing for 28 yards into the end zone, his first touchdown of the season, to seal LA Tech's 35-18 victory over the Fighting Illini.
Conference USA made a statement this bowl season | CollegeFootballTalk