Running back Kenneth Dixon (above) is one of the top players for Louisiana Tech.
A team that has had its share of ups and downs already this season, Louisiana Tech enters Saturday’s 3 p.m. CDT kickoff against No. 5 Auburn with a team looking to rebound from a shocking 30-27 loss to Northwestern State at home last weekend.
Following back-to-back impressive wins over Louisiana-Lafayette and North Texas by a combined score of 90-41, Coach Skip Holtz said his team must rebound in a hurry with a tough challenge ahead against the powerful Tigers.
“You do not have long to wallow in self-pity,” Holtz said. “You have 24 hours to enjoy a win and 24 hours to mourn a loss. That one is over and you have to get ready for Auburn.
"I think we are playing an unbelievable football team," said the coach, who is in his second season in Ruston. "I have great respect for their staff--I know the quality of staff that they have. I think they are doing an unbelievable job. We have watched a lot of film from 2013 and I do not think it is close how much better they are this year than what they were a year ago. It is scary to think that a year ago they competed for the national championship and yet they are a lot better than they were a year ago.”
While Auburn’s offense is coming off a down performance in the win over Kansas State last Thursday, the Tigers’ defense is hitting on all cylinders after allowing just 40 rushing yards to the Wildcats. Currently ranked 11th in the nation, allowing just 86 yards per game on the ground, Auburn’s defensive prowess starts up front, Holtz pointed out.
“They are violent,” the coach said of Auburn’s defensive front. “They are all over 300 pounds. It is not so much the weight as it is the athleticism and strength. They are penetrators. They try and push you into the backfield and they do a great job. It is not hard to see why so many people have them in the championship game or in the top four because of how good they are defensively with their front four.
“Their linebackers are athletic and their secondary plays a lot of man," he said. "As much as they play man, they still do not give you an opportunity to have time to throw. There are not many people who are just sitting in the pocket, trying to throw the ball. I am not sure I have ever seen a defense play this physical. I have really been impressed with what they do.”
For Louisiana Tech the offensive attack begins with running back Kenneth Dixon and quarterback Cody Sokol. Coming back from an injury and looking better than ever, Dixon has 404 yards and five touchdowns this season on just 69 carries (5.9 yards per carry). His biggest game came in a win over ULL when he galloped for 184 yards and a pair of scores.
Transferring to Louisiana Tech from Iowa, Sokol was a standout at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College before signing with the Hawkeyes. Taking over the job this fall for the Bulldogs, Sokol is completing 62.7 percent of his passes for 252.2 yards per game and has 10 touchdowns with five interceptions.
Featuring a deep group of receivers, Louisiana Tech has four players with at least 14 catches this year with USF transfer Sterling Griffin leading the way with 19 receptions for 280 yards and a touchdown.
On the other side of the ball Louisiana Tech will roll out a defense that is allowing 141.8 yards on the ground and 217.5 through the air per game this season. Those totals include a season-opening loss at Oklahoma when the Bulldogs gave up 436 total yards to the Sooners in a loss. The most alarming statistic for Holtz has to be the 12 rushing touchdowns allowed in four games, five coming in that first game against Oklahoma.
Up front Louisiana Tech features a big group of defensive linemen and linebackers with Illinois transfer Houston Bates (6-3, 256) a solid option at one defensive end spot. In the middle preseason All-Conference USA selection Vernon Butler (6-3, 317) is a load to handle as is his running mate Devon McKinney (6-0, 288). Massive middle linebacker and Sulligent native Tony Johnson (6-2, 255) will be fired up to face the Tigers as will reserve linebacker Nick Thomason (6-1, 235). Holtz said it will take a strong game from his defense to slow down the Auburn offense on Saturday.
“What they do is very non-traditional,” the coach said. “Their quarterback is always a threat to run or throw. Their running backs are very big and physical. They run very hard and I think both are on the All-SEC team. It just goes to show you a little bit of the versatility that they have. Their offensive line is big and aggressive. They do a great job with the scheme that they run. They have a wide receiver (Duke Williams) who was the top junior college receiver in the country.
“He is third team All-SEC and he has never played a down of Division I football. It just shows the respect that everyone has for him. Their offense is about big plays. They can gain four or five, but that gain of 70, 80 or 90 is coming. You have to try and stop the running game but yet they are very good with their big plays. I think they are an incredible football team. I think they are ranked in the top five because of their talent, the effort that they play with and the scheme that they run. I think it is a combination of all of it.”
The game is at Jordan-Hare Stadium and will be televised on the SEC Network.
In case you missed it. Watch Gus Malzahn talk about facing LA Tech this week and give an update on the Tigers.