Can you spell b-o-w-l? To do it, Tech will need at least one more W.
That 21-0 victory at San Jose State ties Tech with Nevada at third in the WAC. If the Bulldogs can take one of their three remaining contests, they will be considered for the postseason. Keep winning and the opportunity solidifies into something approaching a lead-pipe lock. A coalescing defense has helped the Bulldogs to this plateau.
"We haven't had a shut out here in 148 games, so it would be silly if I said I wasn't surprised," Dooley said. "The defense took the challenge of outperforming San Jose. We were bragging about them as coaches. They decided to show us that they could play better than San Jose State's defense did."
Up next is Utah State, which is coming off a 49-14 drubbing at Boise State -- though, as Dooley will remind, nobody looks all that great against the Broncos. Still, it completely dissipated whatever momentum Utah State had gained by winning at home on Nov. 1 against defending league champ Hawaii. USU had lost four straight going into that contest. With so much at stake, however, Dooley has focused on what's gone right.
Utah State boasts a dangerous passing attack, no matter who's under center: Last week, Sean Setzer took over for benched starter Dionde Borel and threw for a career-high 226 passing yards, hitting Doug Barbour and Robert Turbin for touchdowns in the losing effort.
"They have a really good quarterback who makes a lot of plays," Dooley said. "They are very disruptive to a defense." Setzer was also the team's leading rusher, however, a powerful illustration of how difficult it is to have all-phases success against Boise -- which held USU to 44 yards rushing and forced six turnovers. USU is expected to use both passers. They'll need to keep an eye out for tireless defender Terry Carter, who keyed Tech's bend-but-don't break approach against the pass.
Dooley reserved particular praise for a play last week were Carter got beat on a reception that turned into a 62-yard play, but continued pursuing and brought down the San Jose receiver short of the goal line. Tech held.
Carter also had a 50-yard interception return for a TD to open the scoring. That led to WAC defensive player of the week honors. "He came up with a huge play for us that got us on the board," Dooley said. "It was a big play. He has been playing better each week."
Combine that standout effort with a stout run defense, and the Bulldogs limited San Jose State to just 148 yards and six first downs on 56 snaps on offense. Utah State's defense, meanwhile, is led by Jake Hutton, who had a game-high 14 tackles against Boise. Ben Calderwood added eight stops, forced and recovered a fumble.
The unit presents a season-defining opportunity for Ross Jenkins, who threw for just 97 yards last week at San Jose. Utah State has struggled mightily against passing attacks, surrendering 271 yards a night through the air -- 112th in the nation.
Unfortunately, Tech is last in the league, averaging 150 passing yards per game. So, Dooley will likely continue to rely on the sturdy legs of rushers Daniel Porter and Patrick Jackson, who combined for 186 yards on 34 carries against San Jose -- including a gutty scoring run by Jackson that has become an Internet sensation.
Porter, who averages more than 5 yards every time he takes a handoff, leads the team with nearly 700 yards and five rushing touchdowns on the season. After the San Jose win, Tech sits at 27th in the nation in rushing.
"I thought our offense ran ball well against an excellent defense," Dooley said. "We were trying to play it pretty close to the vest, trying not to take too many chances. We felt turnovers would be key, so we were content to punt the ball. Fortunately, our defense played the way we had to play if you are going to play that way on offense."
So, let's do the math. Tech has yet to lose at the Joe in 2008. Utah State has played on the road five times this season and returned to Logan each time with a loss.
The Bulldogs just held San Jose State scoreless. That's the same team that drubbed USU 30-7 earlier this year. Tech has just beaten two consecutive bowl-bound programs, including Fresno State two weeks back.
Utah State? Fans are calling for their coach's head: Brent Guy is 8-37 all time, the program's worst-ever career winning percentage. At 2-8 overall, USU hasn't had a winning record in 12 seasons. A third victory in 2008 would equal its total for the past two years combined.
Even so, Dooley is taking nothing for granted -- and seems most concerned with fighting off an emotional letdown. No one associated with this program is likely to forget Tech's shattering 2008 stumble at Nevada, the last time these Bulldogs sniffed bowl eligibility. "That will be a big challenge: To come off a win like this and play our best," Dooley said. "If we don't, we're going to get beat."
Utah State (2-8, 2-4) at Louisiana Tech (5-4, 3-2) 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Joe Aillet Stadium, Ruston Radio: KXKZ, 107.5 FM Streaming: latechtv.com Gametracker: latechsports.cstv.com/index-main.html
Notes: Last year's 48-35 loss left Utah State at 3-2 all-time against Tech. Two of those wins came in 1993-94, before the schools joined the WAC. … Tech's Jackson is the league's active career leader and tied for sixth in the nation in all-purpose yards with 4,843 and is 11th all-time. … USU has had problems in protection, allowing almost 3 sacks per game -- 109th in the nation. … Junior DB Antonio Baker has averaged 8.3 tackles per game over his Tech career, the 11th best among active players in the nation.