La Tech Looks to Stun Jayhawks

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me... Phog.net's Kevin Flaherty with a look ahead to tomorrow's game with Louisiana Tech.

The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs will try to pull a quick one on a BCS conference school for the second time in as many weeks when they face off against the Kansas Jayhawks. In week one, the Bulldogs used a stout defense and an opportunistic offense to sneak by the Mississippi State Bulldogs 22-14 on the WAC school’s home turf.

It was a big win for Tech, a supposed mid-major school with a second-year head coach in Derek Dooley and a relatively young offense. They stood toe-to-toe with Mississippi State and forced five turnovers to come out with the victory.

Offensively, Tech shows multiple looks, though they often use a three-receiver, single-back set. The trigger man is Bennett (6-foot-3 217 pounds), a senior southpaw who transferred in from Georgia Tech after graduating from the school in 2007. Last year, he started every game for the Yellow Jackets, leading them to the Humanitarian Bowl. The lefty showed nice touch at several points last week, but also made some poor decisions. His final numbers, which included him completing just 14 of his 40 passes for 175 yards, a touchdown and an interception, had a lot to do with the pressure he received from Mississippi State’s defense. It seemed like Bennett was hit every other play, but he toughed it out.

One of his favorite all-purpose weapons is Patrick Jackson (5-10 203), a versatile player with more than 4,300 all-purpose yards to his credit. Jackson can catch the ball out of the backfield, and used his deceptive power to help the Bulldogs in short-yardage situations last week, when he rushed 17 times for 62 yards and a touchdown. Daniel Porter (5-9 190) offers a nice change of pace. He topped the century mark twice last year, including the game against Boise State. When the Bulldogs go with a fullback, it’s Anthony Harrison (6-3 242), a senior.

But the Bulldogs will likely make their living through the air, thanks in large part to an explosive playmaker in Phillip Livas (5-8 175). Livas, a sophomore, caught six passes for 85 yards against Mississippi State, with a decent portion coming after the catch. The Bulldogs like to get him the ball in space to let him try and operate. Philip Beck (5-9 190) gives Bennett a nice possession receiver, while Josh Wheeler (6-4 204) works the sideline well to stretch the field. Coaches think tight end Dustin Mitchell (6-4 252) has NFL potential.

The Louisiana Tech offensive line struggled against a superior front last week, though there certainly were bright spots, like the play of left tackle Rob McGill (6-6 305), a sophomore. The rest of the line is similarly young – left guard Ben Harris (6-4 295) is the only starter who isn’t a sophomore. Harris is a junior. The right side is huge, where tackles Jared Miles and Cudahy Harmon each go about 325. Lon Roberts (6-3 277) is the center. The line does a decent job of base blocking in the running game, but struggled against bigger and quicker linemen last week. The line also struggled to pick up blitzes.

The defensive line is led by tackle D’Anthony Smith (6-2 300), who had seven tackles for loss a year ago. But this is a unit without real stars – last week the Bulldogs went nine deep across the four defensive line spots. They prefer those motors to be running fast as well, only Smith and backup tackle Breon Jackson top 270 pounds. The Bulldogs didn’t get much pressure from the front four, but the group played assignment-sound football, allowing the rest of the defense to create.

But if the line is undersized, the linebackers are oversized. Brannon Jackson mans the middle as a 265-pound force. Quin Harris (6-2 235) was a second-team All-WAC selection last year and had seven tackles against Mississippi State. Brian White is a thick 228 pounds and can run. He had nine tackles last week. Dominique Faust, a hybrid player at 190 pounds, is also active. As a unit, the linebackers are mobile, disciplined and fill their gaps downhill.

Antonio Baker (5-11 204) leads a very good secondary from his free safety spot. Baker led the team in tackles last year with 118 on his way to earning first-team All-WAC honors, and he didn’t disappoint last week, grabbing 10 more tackles. It’s usually a bad sign to have a safety get that many tackles, but Baker is outstanding in run support and makes many tackles around the line. His safety mate is Deon Young (5-11 197), who picked off a pass last week. Part of the reason the safeties are so good is that the corners allow them to freelance a bit. Both Stevon Howze (5-9 175) and Weldon Brown (5-10 187) are decent cover men and solid tacklers, which gives the defense versatility. The cornerbacks are often put on islands, and often sent on blitzes as well. The group as a whole did struggle a bit against Mississippi State’s larger receivers though.

Brad Oestriecher was three for three on field goals last week, including a 50 yarder. He did have an extra point blocked. Meanwhile, Chris Keagle averaged 43.6 yards per punt last week and had five downed inside the 20. He’s a special teams weapon. Livas is an excellent return man who can burn a coverage unit.

The Bulldogs have a young overall team that is growing into Dooley’s program. The Mississippi State win will serve as a statement game for said program, but it remains to be seen whether they can make a consistent deal of it.

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