Midseason Report Card

After six games and heading into this weekend's Western Athletic Conference game at Utah State, the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs face a critical junction in their season. HereComeTheDawgs.com is taking a look back at every position and grading how the Bulldogs have done thus far and what to expect over the second half of the season.

OFFENSE – Grade: B-

Tech's offense, on the whole, has been about average. The Bulldogs have scored at least 17 points in every game, but has only scored more than 26 points twice. Against Central Arkansas, Tech needed every one of its 48 points to pull out an overtime victory, and the Bulldogs' 34 points against Houston were just not enough to hold on to a victory. The Bulldogs have been balanced on offense, averaging 385 yard per game with 147 of that coming on the ground and 238 through the air. But as adequate as Tech has been offensively, there is still room for a lot of improvement.

Quarterback – Grade: B

What's the old saying about football? The quarterback gets too much of the credit when things go good, and he gets too much of the blame when things go bad. I don't buy into that adage, though. Even with Tech at 2-4, Nick Isham hasn't been the problem with Tech's offense. The true freshman arrived in Ruston over the summer, won the starting QB job in fall camp and took his first snaps as a collegiate starter all before his 18th birthday. Like any true freshman, Isham has had his fair share of struggles. But he's also energized many Tech fans into believing the Bulldogs have a star on their hands behind center. Isham has completed 62 percent of his passes, thrown for 1,394 yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. The numbers are neither great nor terrible, but Isham has invigorated the Bulldogs' offense and kept them in every game but one this year. Most importantly, he's given hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Running backs – Grade: C-

Without injuries who knows what this grade might look like. But the injury bug has absolutely riddled the Bulldogs' backfield. Lennon Creer has been banged up all season long, and what was expected to be a breakout senior season on his way to the NFL actually has been a frustrating one. Still, a season that hasn't exactly met the grade still has Creer on pace for more than 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. Creer isn't the only back banged up. Ray Holley and Lyle Fitte, RBs No. 2 and 3, both have been lost for the season with injuries. Holley injured his back and neck, while Fitte tore a ligament in his knee. That leaves Tech scrambling for bodies to pick up the pieces. True freshman walk-on Hunter Lee emerged as a potential go-to back with his 28-carry, 134-yard performance against Idaho two weeks ago. He'll be expected to carry a much bigger load the rest of the way. With freshman Tevin King not in the mix, there aren't a whole lot of running backs available. Tech's coaches might have to be creative to find backs behind Creer and Lee. Tyrone Duplessis, who hasn't played this year, and Brock Waters, Tech's "Wild Dawg" QB, could see time in the backfield. And coaches also have the option of moving Levander Liggins, a freshman who has seen time exclusively in the secondary, to offense as well.

Receivers – Grade: D

Before the season, if you had asked me the strength of this offense, there's no doubt I would have said the receivers. It's clearly the deepest position on the team, and there's no shortage of guys who can run routes and catch passes. The problem: although there's no shortage of options, so far, those options haven't exactly been very productive. Quinton Patton has emerged as a star and, thus far, has been the only consistent threat. Patton, a junior college transfer, has averaged eight catches for 105.8 yards and has scored six touchdowns on the season. He has more than twice as many catches and three times as many yards as any other Tech receiver, and no other receiver has more than one touchdown catch. While Patton clearly has been outstanding, other receivers basically have disappeared. Myles White, the other major JUCO acquisition, has been slowed by an ankle injury and has just 11 catches. Taulib Ikharo, the best returning receiver on the team, has struggled with drops and has been mostly ineffective. Richie Casey, Andrew Guillot, David Gru, Fitte and Lee also have been marginally ineffective. It's tough to ask Patton to do more, even though he can, but the Bulldogs certainly need more production from Ikharo, Casey and White. In fact, those four receivers need to be on the field for more snaps, and it's up to Isham to get them the ball and let them make plays.

Offensive line – Grade: C-

This offensive line – senior Kris Cavitt, junior Kevin Saia, junior Stephen Warner, junior Oscar Johnson and junior Jordan Mills – was expected to be solid with three starters returning. And for the most part, they've been solid, although certainly not spectacular. While the Bulldogs are running the ball for yards, they're averaging just 3.5 yards per carry as the O-line has struggled to create many holes. Creer and Holley, who have the most carries, are averaging 4 and 4.2 yards per carry, respectively. In the passing game, the offensive line has been adequate. Isham mostly has had time to throw, though he has been sacked an average of two times per game. With a banged-up backfield, there is even more pressure on the offensive line to open holes and take the pressure off Creer, Lee and others.

DEFENSE – Grade: C+

It's no secret that Tech hasn't exactly been known for its defense through the years, and there are clearly people who aren't believes in defensive coordinator Tommy Spangler's system. Yet, even at 2-4, the Bulldogs' D has played better than its offense at times this year. It's tough to count the Southern Miss game, because the tropical storm played as much a part in slowing down the Eagles as Tech's defense did, but the Bulldogs looked great for 2 ½ quarters against Houston, held Mississippi State in check and gave up just three defensive points to Idaho in the last game. Clearly, the Hawaii and Central Arkansas games weren't good, and Spangler's units always seem to give up way too many big plays and third-down conversions, but I actually think this defense has played better on the whole than I expected.

Defensive line – Grade: B+

How do you define success for a D-line? Getting after the quarterback and limiting the running game, I believe. And the Bulldogs have mostly done that this year. The Bulldogs have 17 sacks – led by DEs Christian Lacey, Matt Broha and I.K. Enemkpali, and DT Jon'al White – and also have limited opponents to just 105 yards rushing and four rushing TDs on the season. Broha, the senior leader, has a motor that never stops, and he continues moving up the school's record book for career sacks. Lacey, Enemkpali, White and others give Bulldog fans hope that the defensive line could be a position of strength as well next year and into the future.

Linebackers – Grade: B+

This is a position that's tough to grade. Adrien Cole and Jay Dudley are the top two tacklers on the team, combining for 109 stops and nine tackles for loss. But in Spangler's system, there are only two LBs on the field for nearly every single snap. That leaves little opportunity for other talented players like Solomon Randle, Rufus Porter and Dusty Rust. In a way, the system hinders one of Tech's most talented position groups by keeping some of the team's best playmakers on the bench.

Secondary – Grade: D

Honestly, I feel like I'm being a little generous here. Tech's secondary is pretty bad. Jamel Johnson, Chad Boyd, Quinn Giles and Terry Carter all have 25 or more tackles, but when your DBs are combining for that many tackles, it means they're giving up a lot of receptions. Carter has been a ballhawk with nine passes defensed, while Giles has three interceptions and Dave Clark has added two. But Tech's opponents are passing for nearly 300 yards per game, including a monstrous 12.4 yards per catch. Those two statistics must improve if the Bulldogs hope to improve over the second half of the season.

OVERALL – Grade: C-

I can't say that Tech is much worse at this point than I thought it would be. Best-case scenario, I was thinking the Bulldogs beat Houston and Hawaii at home and are 4-2 at this point. More realistically, I was hoping for 3-3. I didn't think Tech could go on the road and beat Southern Miss with a true freshman QB making his first start. I didn't think Tech could go toe-to-toe with Case Keenum and Houston's offensive machine. I didn't think Tech would be able to go into Starkville and beat Mississippi State. The fact that the Bulldogs lost those three games by a combined nine points (including an OT loss at Mississippi State) is something to hang their hats on. The way they lost those games, however, was very frustrating for Tech fans. Clearly, this team is capable of doing great things, so laying an egg at home against Hawaii and sitting at 2-4 instead of 3-3 is tough to swallow. The schedule is much more favorable moving forward, however. The remaining six opponents have a combined record of 16-22, and none of those six opponents has a winning record. There's no question that Tech could win any and all of its remaining games. It starts this weekend at Utah State. I never like to call any game a "must win," but this game could be considered as such. At 2-4, the Aggies could be the worst of the remaining WAC games on Tech's schedule, and a loss drops the Bulldogs to 2-5. A win, on the other hand, gives Tech a home game against San Jose State with a chance to even its record at 4-4. A three-game road trip at Fresno State, Ole Miss and Nevada certainly isn't easy, and it's not a given that the Bulldogs don't go 0-3 on that trip. It's also not out of the realm of possibility to see Tech sweep that series and return to Joe Aillet Stadium at 7-4 and potentially playing against New Mexico State to win the WAC title.


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