"It's the goal of every team; that's your starting point -- a winning record and a bowl," said second-year Tech coach Derek Dooley. "We're close. We're not there yet, but we are close. We have to keep our focus on getting there."
Since falling to Army on Oct. 25, Tech has reeled off season-turning victories against Fresno State, San Jose and USU – though, that last one ended up as a 45-38 thriller in Ruston. The Bulldogs now stand in a tie for second in the Western Athletic Conference standings with Nevada, Tech's final regular-season foe.
Up next is a deceptively dangerous New Mexico State team, a second consecutive WAC program that is far better than its record. True, the Aggies are in the midst of the conference's longest streak of futility. Losers of five in a row, and next-to-last in the standings, NMSU hasn' t won since beating Nevada 48-45 on Oct. 11. Still, starting quarterback Chase Holbrook boasts an impressive 11,197 career passing yards entering his final two games of collegiate eligibility. Top target Chris Williams has made a team-best 74 receptions for 1,064 yards and seven TDs; he was last seen returning a kickoff for 96 yards to score late in the first quarter against Fresno. "They have an outstanding quarterback and some fast receivers," Dooley said. "It' s going to be a big challenge They have a very confusing and disruptive defense."
That has a familiar ring to it. A week ago, Tech battled to the end to put away Utah State -- and Dooley admitted to some youthful mistakes in dealing with the pressures of securing a postseason bid. "All the bowl eligibility talk is something new for our football team," Dooley said. "I was really concerned going into the game. We were favored, which is also a new thing."
Daniel Porter sealed the win, even as Tech trailed by a field goal later in the fourth quarter. His 22-yard rushing touchdown -- part of a 114-yard afternoon -- put the Bulldogs ahead for good in what became a slim, 7-point victory at The Joe.
Tech quarterback Ross Jenkins was solid, if unspectacular, converting 12-of-17 passes for 145 yards and two scores. He was also intercepted twice, and sacked a trio of times. Tech's defense, meanwhile, allowed five rushing scores.
"We played Jekyll and Hyde: We struggled to stop them, and we made some mistakes on offense," Dooley said. "But in the end, I was really proud. We were able to grind out a win. It was a good way to finish." Dooley has sought to tighten the team's focus over the last week. Saturday is not a trip to San Diego, Boise or Shreveport. It's to Las Cruces.
And Tech, despite that four-win streak in league play, is 1-4 in road games this season.
"There is so much you can't control," Dooley said. "So much happens in the last couple of weeks of every season. The easiest way to make sure you go to a bowl is to keep winning. The only thing we can control is how we play. That will make the bowl situation more clear for us."
Louisiana Tech (6-4) at New Mexico State (3-7) 3 p.m. Saturday, Aggie Memorial Stadium, Las Cruces.
TV: Cox Sports TV, ESPN GamePlan, Altitude. Radio: KXKZ, 107.5 FM Streaming: nmstatesports.com
Notes: Holbrook boasts 21 passing TDs in 2008, but also has 13 interceptions … Tech lost three first three meetings against New Mexico State by a combined 111-27 between 1967-95, but is 3-4 since -- including a 22-21 victory in 2007. … Tech's passing offense remains in neutral, last in the league and 105th in the country with 149.4 ypg. Luckily, Porter and Patrick Jackson -- who added 65 yards and a score on just 12 attempts last week -- have ably filled the gap.