Louisiana Tech's Sonny Dykes is planning to bring some winning consistency to Ruston. The Bulldogs finished 5-7 in Dykes' first year, including a 13-12 setback to Southern Miss in Ruston. Dykes talked about the winning tradition at Southern Miss.
"The thing now is we get to go see how we respond on the road against a good football team, said Dykes. "You look at Southern Miss, and I'm not sure people would know this unless you told them, but they have had 17 consecutive winning seasons. There are four teams in college football that have done that, they are: Florida, Florida State, Virginia Tech and Southern Miss. They (Southern Miss) have had a tremendous amount of consistency. I think they have been in bowl games 13 of the last 14 years."
Leading the way for the Golden Eagles on offense will be senior quarterback Austin Davis and explosive running backs Desond Johnson and Kendrick Hardy. The two backs combined for over 1500 yards rushing a year ago. Whether he was passing the ball or running, Davis had a combined 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2010. When you compare that to his miniscule 6 interceptions, it is easy to see USM has a big advantage with Davis in the game.
Dykes talked about what his team faces on Saturday. "They are very good on offense," he explained. "They averaged about 38 points a game last year. They are firing on all cylinders. They have a lot of experience. I think they return their three leading rushers. They lost a couple of starters on their offensive line. Their center was a good player that they lost but they are going to be big up front. They are going to have a lot of experience at the receiver and running back position and again the key for them is going to be their quarterback. He is a really solid player and executes their offense extremely well and so we are going to have to play good defense, we really are."
For Louisiana Tech to have success, the Bulldogs must get pressure on Davis. Defensive Ends Matt Broha and I.K. Enempkali will have to live in the USM backfield to give the defensive secondary a chance to make plays.
"We're going to have to stop the run first and then make some plays on the football when they throw the football," added Dykes. "They converted 49 percent of their third downs last year so they are a very good team on third downs. We're going to need to create some turnovers defensively, get stops. We have to do a great job on third down and make some big plays. I think the thing with us is we have the opportunity to make some explosive plays on both sides of the ball and that is going to be very important for us.
Louisiana Tech will have to run the ball on offense. While Southern Miss averaged 4.7 yards per carry (a big reason for that 49% success on 3rd down), they held their opponents to just 3.7 last season. With Freshman Quarterback Nick Isham under center, he will need Lennon Creer and Ray Holley to produce in order to keep the chains moving.
The two teams are very similar. Both teams have really good running backs and linebackers. Both teams had holes to fill on the offensive line and both teams had to partially rework the defensive line and the secondary. Still, Southern Miss has big time playmakers on defense, which has always been their calling card. Linebacker Korey Williams returns after racking up 92 tackles last year. The Louisiana native (Edna Karr) is a force in the middle of the defense. Jamie Collins, listed at the "Bandit" position, is a 6'3" 231 hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker. His job is to make plays on defense and he did just that in 2010. Collins had 76 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and two interceptions.
Once again, Dykes talked about the athletes USM has on defense. "I feel good about us being able to run the football," he admitted. "I mean they are good up front. They we're one of the top 25 run defenses in the country last year. That is their trademark. Their deal is ‘you're not going to be able to run the ball on us, we're going to force you to throw it,' and they have good players up front, that's the thing when you look at their defensive line, they have a lot of depth. Last year we noticed there wasn't much difference between their starters and their back-ups. They were all big, they were all athletic. The guys inside were physical and strong and the guys on the edge were long and they were good pass rushers and they were fast, and most of those guys are back. That will be a challenge for us, but our offensive line, you know really we have four returning starters, we have a lot of guys coming back with some experience and I think we're certainly further along than we were a year ago so we will see how that goes."
Up front on defense, USM has 6'3" 285-pound Terrance Pope and second team All-Conference USA Defensive End Cordarro Law. The 254-pound Law had 6 sacks and 4 forced fumbles last year. With Law and Collins putting pressure on the outside, Louisiana Tech's offensive line will have to be up to the challenge.
Tech has four veterans up front with Stephen Warner and Kevin Saia leading the way. Jordan Mills and Kris Cavitt both have starting experience and will line up at the two tackle spots. Vince Cano will get the start at guard, with massive Oscar Johnson being next in line. If Cavitt and Mills can somewhat contain the hellish Southern Miss pass rush, Isham should be able to make a few plays and keep the Tech offense on the field. It will be a huge challenge.
On defense, Tech moved Ryan Williams to safety and 6'2" Dave Clark looks like a player at cornerback. The Bulldogs should fare better against the pass in 2011. Tech returns two of their top tacklers at linebacker in seniors Adrien Cole and Jay Dudley. Solomon Randle, Rufus Porter, and Dusty Rust also return, making the linebackers one of Tech's strengths on defense. Dudley will be a key as he will be charged with keeping Hardy and Johnson from getting to the edge. I wouldn't call us a strength," Porter said at media day. "I would call us a nice part. We need all eleven guys."
Like USM, Tech will switch to the 4-2-5 defense on occasion and bring in the hard hitting Chad Boyd. This formation should help get more speed on the field to match up with the Golden Eagles.
Leading the way for the USM secondary will be 6'2" safety Kendrick Presley (63 tackles in 2010.) Louisiana native (O.P. Walker) Deron Wilson could be a big factor at cornerback. The 5'10" sophomore had three picks last year, but he missed the entire spring.
Kicker Danny Hrappmann was an All-American for Southern Miss last year after hitting 26 of 31 Field Goals. Tech counters with Matt Nelson, who was 14-18. Nelson was 12-16 as a freshman and looks to continue in the long line of successful Bulldog Kickers. He hasn't had a lot of Field Goal opportunities in his two years, but he has a big leg and should be a weapon for the Bulldogs this season. Hrappmann was 13-14 in Hattiesburg last year, so don't expect him to miss if he gets a chance on Saturday.
Louisiana Tech will count on Lyle Fitte and Tevin King to help fill the void left by Phillip Livas on kick returns. Fitte averaged 26.75 yards on kickoff returns a year ago. King, a true freshman out of Georgia, is similar to Livas in size and speed, but Dykes said he needs to learn how to set up blocks. Livas was known for setting up blocks and making people miss. Livas was even more dangerous on punt returns. Andrew Guillot and Ryan Williams will try their hand at returning punts for Tech this year. If Tech is going to make a big play on special teams on Saturday, look for Fitte to be that guy. Linebacker Rufus Porter had a blocked punt against USM last year and it will take that kind of explosiveness for Tech to turn the tide in 2011. "Making those plays on special teams helped me feel more of a part of the team," added Porter. "I feel like I play an important role in this team and I'm trying to fill that role however my teammates need me."
The whole game could be decided by the wide receivers. If newcomers Quinton Patton and Myles White can break away for a big touchdown, it would certainly make Isham look better. Patton and White join Richie Casey and Taulib Ikharo as Tech's major receiving threats. Ikharo and Casey combined for over 950 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Davis spread the wealth around last year for USM. Kevin Bolden returns as his top target after leading the team with 722 yards. Quentin Piere also returns, having caught 38 catches for 454 yards. DeAndre Brown has moved on, but 6'4" Dominique Sullivan could be a big play target for Davis. Tracy Lampley had over 500 yards rushing and receiving last year and will also be a factor.
Southern Miss is in year four under Larry Fedora and ready to hit that magic 10 win mark. They need this one to get off to the right start. Louisiana Tech is looking to equal some of what Southern Miss has done recently and what better way to do it than to knock of the Golden Eagles? Southern Miss has the advantages with having more time in their system, a senior quarterback, and of course home field. Louisian Tech will give them all they have. It should be a really good game between two fairly well matched teams. USM is favored in this one as they should be, but it should be a pretty close and exciting game just like last year.