LA Tech Preview

A brutal schedule faced by few others began last week and continues this week for the Louisiana Tech football team. After a blowout loss to Miami on Saturday, the Bulldogs now confront Tennessee at Neyland Stadium.

After that, they play host to Fresno State and then travel to Auburn, a team fresh off a victory over highly regarded LSU. Do the Bulldogs just love a good test, or are their schedule makers insane?

"It's a double-edged sword," Louisiana Tech defensive coordinator Tim Rose said of playing such a rugged schedule. "The guys love to play and compete, but they also want to win. Winning is what you have got to get done. You have to score a major upset to do it. It's a tough challenge. You are talking about four tough games right there. It's a lot of fun, but we all want to win."

Sure, but how realistic is it that Louisiana Tech has a chance to earn even one victory in the Murderer's Row of upcoming opponents?

Bulldogs‚ head coach Jack Bicknell has a very optimistic outlook. He isn't ruling out a victory in at least one of the next three games, but he knows his team will have to play near-flawless football. In describing the Bulldogs‚ approach to the tough stretch of games, he employs one of the oldest clichés in the book.

"They are very tough, but you just have to take it one game at a time," he said. "We can beat any of those teams we face, but of course we could also get beat. There is no question in my mind we have the talent to compete with them and beat them if we can get a few breaks.

"If you look at all four of the games together, that is too daunting. We just have to look at it a week at a time. We are trying to focus one week at a time and then go on to the next one. We will add the wins together at the end and see where we are."

It's not unheard of for Louisiana Tech to knock off more talented teams. The Bulldogs beat Michigan State last year and got a win over Oklahoma State a few years ago.

"You‚ve got to catch these teams at the right time," Rose said. "But it can be done."

The Bulldogs‚ offense, which features one of the nation's leading rushers in Ryan Moates, has proven capable of putting points on the board. But the defense got pummeled in a 48-0 loss to the Hurricanes.

Improvements by Rose's unit are a must if the Bulldogs are to compete with the Vols.

We made an awful lot of mistakes last week," he said. "We need to solve the mental mistake problem. If we do, we can be competitive. We are pretty fast on defense. We are not SEC-type fast, but pretty fast."

Rose knows his defense can't contain offenses like that posed by a Tennessee or Auburn. But he hopes the Bulldogs can play well enough to give the team hope down the stretch of games.

"Obviously, trying to win is uppermost in our minds," he said. "But sometimes you have to be realistic. We want to play well on defense. We want to come out of the games with confidence. We want to get to the fourth quarter with a chance to win."

Rose gained experience coaching against the Vols while an assistant at Memphis. He sees the typical Tennessee talent on display in the latest version of the Vols. "They are big, physical and talented," he said. "When you talk SEC, you are talking arguably the best talent in the nation. I am very impressed with what they do."

Devising a scheme to handle two precocious freshmen quarterbacks, Tennessee's Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge, is top priority for Rose. Both bring a variety of skills to the UT offense.

"You have to be ready for both of them," Rose said. "You have to stop the running game first, but you also have to prepare for two quarterbacks. You have to be cognizant of the pass with Ainge, but the problem is the other guy can run. If you don't it will be a long night."

The Louisiana Tech defense stood tall against the run in wins over Nevada and Louisiana- Lafayette. The task becomes much tougher Saturday.

Defensive end Jemelle Cage has been a leader for the Bulldogs. Through three games, he has five tackles for loss and four sacks. Linebacker Jeremy Hamilton and safety Lee Johnson have 19 and 17 tackles, respectively.

"We gave up a total of 90 yards in the first two games," Rose said. "But we are not that good. It's hard to tell how we will do. We saw a lot of passing against the first two teams. We are not a great run defense at this time. We will get a true picture of that as we play these games."

Bicknell hopes his offense can become more well rounded with more of a passing attack.

"People are going to start stacking the box against Moats, so we are going to have to open up the offense and take advantage of some of the looks we are getting," he said. "That is going to be very important, especially against some of the teams we are facing."

Tight end Aaron Capps said the Bulldogs must eliminate turnovers to be competitive with the best teams.

"We have to play mistake-free games," he said. "If we can limit the turnovers, we will have a much better chance."

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