Hawaii was supposed to be down after losing Colt Brennan and his amazing group of receivers. San Jose State lost a number of seniors and New Mexico State is still trying to establish its program as a player in the WAC.
Hawaii, San Jose State, and NMSU are all road games for Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs have never won in Honolulu, San Jose, or Las Cruces. That's right; Tech has never won on the road against those three teams.
Hawaii is the first challenge this weekend. The Warriors, facing a 1-4 record and a 0-2 WAC start, took advantage of six Fresno State turnovers and shocked the California Bulldogs in overtime. Instead of facing a desperate Warrior team this weekend, Louisiana Tech will take on a Hawaii team that has gained confidence. It is debatable which is more dangerous, but Louisiana Tech Head Coach Derek Dooley was not happy to see the score flash up on his television screen. Hawaii is a big test for Dooley's Dawgs.
In order to win, The Bulldogs will have to run the ball. Coach Dooley said the run game was a problem against Boise State. "Their defensive line whipped us up front and that was a problem all night, physically," explained Dooley. "They hit us pretty hard and we couldn't knock them off the ball and that made it pretty tough to run."
Because of the difficulty Tech had running the ball, the passing game needs to pick up the slack. "Our accuracy is not what it needs to be; we had some drops. I felt like our protection was better than it's ever been. Taylor only got hit a couple of times the whole game," Dooley said.
While Tech was able to move the ball through the air a little against the Broncos, the Dawgs failed to get the ball in the end zone. The same problem haunted them against Kansas, and of course they lost both games. "We've got to finish drives. We either get a penalty, we drop a pass, or we make a bad throw, and we've got to play better in the red area. When you run the ball well in the red zone it makes it easier to score," said Dooley.
With four sophomores starting on the offensive line and with a receiving corps that came into the season with a combined two years of experience, Dooley knew there would be some struggles offensively. The Bulldogs have to put the offense together, and they have to do it on the road. Hawaii will present a different challenge than last year. Inoke Funaki has taken over at quarterback and while he has passed for 576 yards, he has also gained 157 yards on the ground. The leading rusher for the Warriors is Kealoha Pilares with 167 yards.
Making it tougher to contain Funaki, Tech's starting defensive end Kwame Jordan will miss the game with an injury. Eric Harper is another defensive end sitting out with an injury, leaving Dooley with three experienced players at the position. Matt Broha, Randy Grigsby, and Jared Barron have all played well this season and will be counted on to play big minutes and make big plays.
Look for linebackers Kiamni Washington and Dominique Faust to be on the field more and more. Both players are stars on the special teams unit and add speed to the linebacker unit when they're on the field. Quin Harris, Nolan Darby, and Brian White have all been banged up, but are all expected to play against Hawaii.
Coach Dooley said cornerback Terry Carter has played well and the track star adds speed to the defensive backfield. Starting corner Weldon Brown really plays well in the nickel position when Carter gets on the field. Brown had ten tackles against Kansas and had an interception to go with six tackles against Boise State.
Hawaii took advantage of six turnovers to beat Fresno State. Louisiana Tech will have to play mistake-free to win on the road. They have to take care of the football, establish the run, and complete passes. It sounds simple, but it will be tough to do on the road for this struggling offense. In a game that has early bowl implications for the WAC, both teams will ready for a tough game.