2008 National Rankings:
Rush Offense: 69th/Rush Offense: 27th
Pass Offense: 99th/Pass Offense: 102nd
Total Offense: 104th/Total Offense: 75th
Score Offense: 110th/Score Offense: 72nd
Rush Defense: 54th/Rush Defense: 13th
Pass Defense: 19th/Pass Defense: 113th
Total Defense: 29th/Total Defense: 73rd
Score Defense: 14th/Score Defense: 52nd
In just two seasons, Coach Derek Dooley has the Louisiana Tech football program back on its feet, compiling a 13-12 record as the Bulldogs' head coach. Tech recorded its first eight-win season this decade under Dooley and hopes to build on a 6-2 finish from 2008, including an Independence Bowl victory.
For the second year in a row, the Bulldogs open the season against a Southeastern Conference opponent after defeating Mississippi State, 22-14, in 2008. The Bulldogs return nine starters on offense, including the entire starting offensive line, but must replace three of their top five leading tacklers on defense. LA Tech must also replace its starting place-kicker and punter from last season.
Senior running back Daniel Porter is coming off an all-conference season, rushing for 1,164 yards and nine touchdowns. Quarterback Ross Jenkins became the full-time starter during the last eight games of the season, passing for seven touchdowns and only three picks from 174 pass attempts.
Daniel Porter leads the Louisiana Tech ground attack.
Phillip Livas returns as the Bulldogs' leading receiver, hauling in 43 receptions for over 600 yards in 2008. If the Bulldogs are to improve on their 8-5 record from last season, their offense will have to become more balanced as they struggled in their passing game.
The Tech defense features NFL prospect D'Anthony Smith, a defensive tackle who made the Lombardi Trophy watch list. The secondary could be a team strength with safety Antonio Baker coming off a 115-tackle season, which included three interceptions. Louisiana Tech must replace two three-year starters at linebacker, but Coach Dooley is counting on a veteran defensive line and secondary to make up for the losses in the middle of the defense.
*Much has been made about Louisiana Tech's national ranking of 13th against the run in 2008. It should be noted seven of its 13 opponents were ranked 74th nationally or worse in rushing offense. Last year, Army rushed for 203 yards and Northern Illinois rushed for 153-yards against Louisiana Tech.
*Though the Bulldogs lost three of their top five leading tacklers on defense, their top five leaders in tackles for loss return in 2009.
*Another key to success for Louisiana Tech in 2008 was its national ranking of 19th in turnover margin.
*Louisiana Tech was 1-3 last season against teams that finished the season with a winning record.
*Auburn currently holds a 10-0-1 record against Louisiana Tech, including a 52-7 victory over the Bulldogs in their most recent meeting (2004). The Bulldogs did take Auburn to overtime in 2001 with Auburn winning, 48-41.
*Auburn coach Gene Chizik made a big splash with the hiring of Gus Malzahn as offensive coordinator to improve the AU attack. Auburn has been held to an average of 251 yards and 12 points per game in their last seven games against a Division I opponent.
*The Auburn running game averaged 173.3 yards from 2000-2006. In their last 25 games, the Tigers have averaged 147.3 yards.
*Ben Tate is primed for a big senior season in Malzahn's power running game. Tate has seven career games of 20 carries or more, averaging 100.7 yards per game. Auburn is 13-2 when Tate rushes for at least 70-yards.
*If the Tigers are to bounce back from their 5-7 record in 2008, Auburn must improve on a run defense that was 54th nationally. Last season Auburn held its first three opponents under 100-yards rushing, but allowed over 100-yards in eight of the last nine games. This included five opponents with at least 170 yards rushing or more.
*From 2001-2005, Auburn averaged 29 plays on offense of 30 yards or more per season. Over the past three seasons, that average has dropped to 17 per season.
Several sporting news agencies have put Auburn on an upset alert against Louisiana Tech based on how each team finished the season in 2008. Dooley has done a solid job rebuilding the Bulldog program, but they will face a much better Auburn team than the Mississippi State squad they defeated in 2008. Auburn is currently in a rebuilding phase of its own, but there is plenty of talent in the starting 22 players. This is clearly a game Auburn cannot afford to overlook, but this will not be the same Auburn team that ended the season with a 36-0 loss to Alabama.
Last season Louisiana Tech's average score was 25-24, scoring four points less than what their opponent normally allowed, but holding their opponent to one point less than what they normally scored. The 2008 Auburn Tigers had an average score of 17-18, which was –5 on offense and –8 on defense. The scoring margins support their national rankings as the Bulldogs were slightly better on offense, but Auburn held the edge on defense. With Louisiana Tech returning nine starters on offense and seven on defense from 2008, its scoring margins should not be too far off from last season with an expected increase on defense.
Why Auburn should win…
*Since 1992, Auburn is 45-0-0 against non-conference opponents from non-BCS conferences with an average score of 39-12.
*Though Louisiana Tech has a few players with NFL potential, it will not be able to field the same level as talent currently on the Auburn roster.
*Auburn's coaches and players are driven to prove they are a better team than the 5-7 squad from 2008 and won't take the Bulldogs lightly.
*Speed and defense rules the SEC and Louisiana Tech will not be able to match the Tigers in either category.
*Offense was the primary reason Auburn struggled in 2008 and the 2009 Auburn offense will be directed by one of the top offensive coordinators in college football.
Why Louisiana Tech has a chance…
*The Bulldogs came close to upsetting Auburn in 1990 and 2001.
*The Bulldogs possessed the 13th-ranked run defense last season and could force Auburn into passing more than Gus Malzahn would like.
*The strength of the Louisiana Tech offense is its running game, matched against an Auburn defense that struggled against the run last season and is very thin at linebacker.
*A slow start by the Auburn offense could light a fire under a Louisiana Tech team that already believes they can play with Auburn.
*Because of depth issues on defense, Auburn wasn't as physical during August preseason practices the coaches would like, which could result in poor tackling and assignment mistakes.
Louisiana Tech is the perfect season opener for the 2009 Auburn Tigers. This will not be a "patsy" opponent, but the Bulldogs won't be a national contender either. If Auburn struggles early, this game could go deep into the second half with the outcome still in doubt. A quick start by the Auburn offense could set the tempo for the game as well as the season.
Auburn defenses are expected to be successful, but the offense was always an issue during the Tommy Tuberville Era. Expect Auburn to attempt to establish its physical dominance by running the football early and often, but for the Bulldogs to challenge with 8-9 defenders in the box.
What makes this game so exciting is the "unknown" factor involving the Auburn coaching staff. We can assume Chizik will field a solid defense when healthy, but what direction will Gus Malzahn take the offense?
Malzahn is a perfectionist when it comes to his offense and he will scheme differently each week to match up against what he perceives as a weakness in the opposing defense. His offense allows him to shift into a power running game or to spread you out with three and four wide receivers. Auburn fans could witness more vertical passes in week one than all of last year when you consider how weak the Tech pass defense was last season.
Gus Malzahn directs the Tigers during practice.
The Auburn offense will likely make mistakes early, which could result in a closer game than some expect but, in the end, it will be the greater number of playmakers on the Auburn offense that will separate the Tigers from the Bulldog defense. Auburn 31, Louisiana Tech 17
Around the SEC...
Alabama over Virginia Tech
Arkansas over Missouri State
LSU over Washington
Ole Miss over Memphis
Mississippi State over Jackson State
Florida over Char. Southern
Oklahoma State over Georgia
Kentucky over Miami, Ohio
South Carolina over NC State
Tennessee over Western Kentucky
Vanderbilt over Western Carolina