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2008 Independence Preview - NIU vs. La Tech
NIU's Larry English & LT's Phillip Livas
NIU's Larry English & LT's Phillip Livas
Posted Dec 20, 2008

Northern Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech - The 2008 Independence Bowl Preview & Prediction

2008 Independence Bowl

Northern Illinois (6-6) vs. Louisiana Tech (7-5)

Dec. 28, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

$1.1 million   Location: Independence Stadium, Shreveport, LA

- 2008 Independence Bowl Player Profiles, Histories, & More

National Rankings
Louisiana Tech No. Illinois
Total Offense
67th  352 ypg 84th  334.75 ypg
Total Defense
77th  379.67 ypg 20th  303.67 ypg
Scoring Offense
65th  25.25 ppg 63rd  25.33 ppg
Scoring Defense
59th  24.83 ppg 16th  18.08 ppg
Run Offense
25th  195 ypg 38th  172.75 ypg
Run Defense
11th  99.75 ypg 60th  141.17 ypg
Pass Offense
102nd  157 ypg 101st  162 ypg
Pass Defense
116th  279.92 ypg 5th  162.50 ypg
Turnover Margin
24th  0.58 42nd  0.33
Louisiana Tech
Miss St W 22-14
at Kansas L 29--0
SE La W 41-26
at Boise St L 38-3
at Hawaii L 28-14
Idaho W 46-14
at Army L 14-7
Fresno St W 38-35
at SJSU W 21-0
Utah State W 45-38
at NMSU W 35-31
Nevada L 35-31
Northern Illinois
at Minn L 31-27
at WMU L 29-26
Indiana St W 48-3
at EMU W 37-0
at Tenn. L 13-9
Miami Univ. W 17-13
Toledo W 38-7
Bo Green W 16-13
at Ball State L 45-14
CMU L 33-30 OT
at Kent St W 42-14
Navy L 16-0
Position Ratings
relative to each other
LT 5 highest
1 lowest
2 Quarterbacks 3
4 RBs 3
2.5 Receivers 2.5
3.5 O Line 4
3.5 D Line 3.5
3.5 Linebackers 3.5
2.5 Secondary 4
4 Spec Teams 3
4 Coaching 3.5

By Pete Fiutak

The SEC and Big 12 have waged war in nine of the last 10 Independence Bowls with Alabama using its win over Colorado last year as a stepping stone to a big 2008 season, Missouri using a win over South Carolina in 2005 to propel itself into its best era ever, and Mississippi State beat Texas A&M in the classic blizzard game in 2000.

And this year it’s Northern Illinois vs. Louisiana Tech.

This might be Joy Behar on the bowl glamour scale, but it should be a competitive matchup between two programs fired up to be in the post-season, and fired up to get the BCS-league caliber payout. If nothing else, history is on the side of this being a good game with eight of the last nine bowls decided by seven points or fewer

This is just the third bowl trip in the history of Louisiana Tech football, and the program isn’t taking this game lightly. The last bowl was in 2001 when the Bulldogs faced a Clemson team that decided to try in the Humanitarian Bowl, a 49-24 Tiger win, and the other post-season game was a 34-34 tie against Maryland in the 1990 Independence Bowl. That’s it. So while staying close to home might not seem like a great reward for a 7-5 season, for second year head coach Derek Dooley, getting the national college spotlight, even though 94% of the sports world will be watching the Broncos - Chargers game, it’s big.       
For Northern Illinois, Christmas came early for a team that probably shouldn’t be anywhere near the bowls. The Huskies finished the year losing three of their last four games, and when they needed to beat Navy at home to assure themselves of a bowl bid, they were shut out in a 16-0 clunker. Even so, for first year head coach Jerry Kill’s team, after going 2-10 last year this is a tremendous step forward for a program that has gone to just three bowl games.   
Helped by a good early stretch of wins against horrible teams, NIU was able to build up a decent record to soften the blows once the meat of the schedule hit. On the down side, the Huskies got blown out by Ball State and needed everything in the bag to get by an awful Miami University team, but of the six losses, one was by four to Minnesota on a late Gopher touchdown and a just-missed final pass into the end zone, one was by three on the road to Western Michigan, one was by four at Tennessee, and one was in overtime against Central Michigan. Winning close games hasn’t been a strong suit for the program over the last few years, but being competitive hasn’t been a problem.
Louisiana Tech had a strange season, starting out with a 22-14 win over Mississippi State in what was supposed to be a tone-setter, and then came a stretch of three losses in four games, with the one win coming against SE Louisiana from the FCS. After losing to Kansas, Boise State and Hawaii by a combined score of 91-17, and after a clunker of a loss to Army, the 3-4 Bulldogs appeared to be going nowhere fast. And then came the run with four straight wins with three of them by less than a touchdown before losing to Nevada 35-31 in the season finale. While NIU struggled to win close games, Louisiana Tech was able to pull them out. And now, with a virtual home game, the pressure is on to not just win, but to make a statement.

The WAC already took it on the chin with Fresno State losing to Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl, and a home loss for Tech would be disastrous for the conference. Northern Illinois has the athletes and the talent to win, and if it can pull this off, all of a sudden the MAC might vault ahead of the WAC in terms of respect; at least it might for a moment or two.

Between the two teams they’ve played 12 games this season decided by eight points or fewer, the Independence Bowl is almost always good, and there aren’t any other bowl games going on. This might not be the most scintillating of matchups, but it should be competitive.
Players to watch: The eyes of the NFL scouts will be focused solely on #51 for the Huskies; senior DE Larry English. A whirling dervish of a playmaker, he’s a classic tweener with too much speed for more offensive tackles and just enough strength to handle himself against the run. The MAC Defensive Player of the Year has 31.5 career sacks and 211 tackles, even though he didn’t have a monstrous statistical year thanks to constant double and triple teaming.  At the next level he projects to be an outside linebacker in a 3-4 or a pass rushing specialist in a 4-3, and while the NFL types know all about him, one final big game wouldn’t hurt.
Louisiana Tech has a playmaker of its own on the line in junior D’Anthony Smith. A big end playing tackle, the 292-pounder led the team with five sacks while serving as a consistently strong inside presence against the run. A First Team All-WAC selection, it’ll be up to him to generate pressure into the backfield while forcing the running game to work on the outside.
Offensively, junior RB Daniel Porter has been the star of the show over the second half of the season. The First Team All-WAC selection ripped off five 100-yard games in the final seven to finish with 1,086 yards and eight touchdowns. With the ability to start and stop on a dime, he’s a quick, tough runner who can bounce to the outside when needed and isn’t afraid to hit the hole when he has to.
This has been a difficult year for an NIU running game that dominated for so many years in the MAC. Redshirt freshman QB Chandler Harnish was the team’s second-leading rusher even though he didn’t take over the full-time job until the second half of the year. While he ran for 113 yards against Bowling Green and 117 against Kent State, he’s had a hard time limiting his mistakes in the passing game with even interceptions and just two touchdown passes over the final five games. He has the potential to be the playmaker the offense works around for the next three years, and a big performance against the Bulldogs in a bowl win would do wonders for his role this off-season.

Northern Illinois will win if... the run defense can hold the Bulldogs to under 200 yards. Tech was able to beat Mississippi State despite rushing for just 41 yards. In the other 11 games, Tech was 6-0 when running for 200 yards or more and 0-5 when it was under. The passing game isn’t strong enough to carry the offense when the ground attack isn’t working, and the NIU run defense is just tough enough to keep Porter and the Bulldog runners under wraps. Even with games against elite running teams like Navy and Kent State to bring down the stats, the Huskies gave of a respectable 141 rushing yards per game.
Louisiana Tech will win if
... the pass rush is working. NIU has a good pass rush thanks to English, but the Bulldogs can bring it from inside and out. Tech has to keep the NIU running game under wraps early on and force NIU to throw. If that happens, the Bulldog defensive front can pin its ears back and make Harnish make plays on the move. Harnish is mobile, but he’s not going to bomb away for big yards. NIU is a momentum team. Against Navy, the Huskies got down early, struggled right away and never recovered, so if Tech can get off to a hot start, this should be over.
What will happen: This won’t be the most aesthetically pleasing of games, but it should be competitive and it should be close late into the second half. The Tech defense will be a wee bit better than the Huskie defense, while the home field flair will help just enough to pull off the tight win.

Line: Northern Illinois -1 ... CFN Prediction: Louisiana Tech 17 … Northern Illinois 13 

- 2008 Independence Bowl Player Profiles, Histories, & More