If you want to look for an "up-and-coming" team in the Western Athletic Conference, search no further than the Deep South for the parish town of Ruston. There you will find the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, a football program on the rise since head coach Derek Dooley arrived in 2007. The Bulldogs exceeded expectations with an 8-5 record in 2008 (5-3 conf.) while earning a berth to the Independence Bowl. Louisiana Tech defeated the Northern Illinois Huskies of the MAC, 17-10 in that game, with a run-suffocating defense.
The Bulldogs face a brutal out-of-conference schedule in 2009. Two daunting SEC opponents, at Auburn in the season opener and at LSU in November, will provide good measures for this squad. But Louisiana Tech isn't intimidated by the mighty SEC after a 22-14 win over Miss. State to begin last season. Going to Navy in Week 2 will quickly test the run defense to see if it will be as nasty as it was last year.
Last season, the Bulldogs ran the ball with extreme efficiency and defended the run just as well. On the flip side, the team struggled with its air attack and also against the pass. If Dooley can improve the latter two areas of his team, it should propel the Bulldogs to a second straight bowl game. Louisiana Tech was picked to finish third in most preseason polls behind Boise State and Nevada.
The offense returns nine starters including quarterback Ross Jenkins. The junior threw for 1,155 yards and seven touchdowns last season against three interceptions. After examining those numbers, it is quite obvious where Tech emphasized a focus offensively. The team racked up more rushing yards than passing yards while finishing dead-last in the WAC in passing with a 156.0 ypg mark. Running back Daniel Porter sparked a potent rush attack that produced more than 187 yards per contest. The senior ran for 1,164 yards and nine TDs last season, placing second in the WAC with an 89.54 ypg average. Porter's production should blossom with all five offensive linemen returning. Phillip Livas is one of most electric players in all of college football. The wide receiver/kick and punt returner is an undersized player (5-8, 175), but elusive and a big reason Louisiana Tech ranked in the Top 20 in kickoff returns and punt returns last season. Livas finished the 2008 campaign ranked No. 17 in the nation in all-purpose yards (155.0 ypg) and No. 7 in punt returns (15.31 ypa).
The Bulldogs defense was nothing short of incredible against the run last season, giving up only 103.85 ypg which was tops in the WAC and No. 13 in the country. All four defensive linemen return from that run-plugging unit and are led by tackle D'Anthony Smith. Smith is an Albert Haynesworth type of player in the middle who collected 46.0 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks last year. As good as Smith and his cohorts were against the run, the Bulldogs fell extremely short against the pass. Louisiana Tech gave up 272.69 ypg through the air last season, ranking a dismal No. 113 in country. And those numbers might not improve this year after losing both starting corners whose holes will attempt to be filled by sophomore Terry Carter and JUCO transfer Olajuwan Paige. The strength of the Bulldog secondary lies in two returning safeties, Antonio Baker and Deon Young. The free safety, Baker, has posted 115 or more tackles in each of the last two seasons while Young, the strong safety, totaled 59.0 tackles and a trio of interceptions in 2008.
San Jose State Wide Receivers versus Louisiana Tech Cornerbacks. The Spartans aren't going to be able to run against the Bulldogs so the team must find success through the air. Fortunately, Louisiana Tech's biggest weakness will be on the outside. But expect the team's experienced safeties to provide plenty of help so quick slants and outs to Kevin Jurovich and Jalal Beauchman to expose one-on-one matchups will need to be in the Spartans gameplan. This is certainly an area San Jose State will have the upper-hand, but can the Spartans do enough handing the ball off to keep the Bulldogs defense honest while moving the chains.
As the final game of the season comes for the both the Spartans and Bulldogs, a bowl bid could be on the line. Louisiana Tech will be battle-tested by the time San Jose State rolls into town having played Boise State, LSU and Fresno State the previous three games. Last November the Spartans were shutout, 21-0 in San Jose after getting absolutely zero production from the quarterback position. The trio of Kyle Reed, Myles Eden and Sean Flynn made the Bulldogs secondary look great after going 11-of-28 for 118 yards and two INTs. Louisiana Tech is an opportunistic team, ranking No. 19 in turnover margin (+9) last season, and returned one of those interceptions last year for a 50-yard touchdown. State found no running room in the contest either, carrying the ball 28 times for 30 yards. The outcome of this game could all depend on what each team is playing for so expect the one with more at stake to win – most likely Louisiana Tech.
Scott Cooley is a Contributing Analyst to Inside Sparta. You may contact Scott with any questions, comments, or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org
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