Only three years into its membership in Conference USA, Louisiana Tech has established itself as one of the most consistent programs in the league. Coach Skip Holtz has led the Bulldogs to back-to-back nine-win seasons, the best two-year win total for the program since 1984-85. To continue the momentum, Louisiana Tech must replace transfer quarterback Jeff Driskel and touchdown machine Kenneth Dixon.
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Previewing Louisiana Tech’s Offense for 2016
Unlike the past two seasons, an experienced quarterback will not be transferring in to take control of Skip Holtz’s offense. Ryan Higgins, who started as a freshman in 2013 before backing up Cody Sokol and then Jeff Driskel, reclaimed the starting role after a strong performance in the spring.
Higgins is comfortable running some zone read, but his primary job will be getting the ball out to a talented receiving corps. Louisiana Tech lines up four wide receivers in its base set, and it has strong options both inside (Trent Taylor) and outside (Carlos Henderson). Standing just 5'8", Taylor was a first-team All-C-USA performer last year after finishing second in the league with 99 catches. Henderson is a burner, and he will be joined by Utah transfer Alfred Smith, who appears to have just as much speed as Henderson.
The offensive line is in great shape, with three returning starters, and a fourth — Kirby Wixson — who started in 2014 but missed 2015 due to injury. Guard O’Shea Dugas was a Freshman All-American, and left tackle Darrell Brown was second-team All-C-USA.
At running back, Kenneth Dixon (second all time in NCAA career touchdowns) is gone, and it will be three players combining to fill his shoes in an offense that primarily lines up with one running back. Former walk-on Boston Scott led the team in rushing in the New Orleans Bowl and likely will start given his superior ability to break tackles. Jarred Craft is more of a short-yardage banger, and Jaqwis Dancy is a breakaway guy who could be a threat in the passing game.
Previewing Louisiana Tech’s Defense for 2016
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With eight starters gone from a unit that ranked 62nd in scoring defense, the Bulldogs certainly face some challenges. The secondary returns just one starter, though it is a good one in safety Xavier Woods, an All-C-USA selection. The starting cornerbacks will be Arizona State transfer Ronald Lewis and Ephraim Kitchen. Another transfer, Jerrell Jackson from Hawaii, will be heavily in the mix, and junior college transfer DaMarion King should fill the nickel role as the Bulldogs attempt to improve their national ranking of 100th in passing defense.
All three linebackers will be new, and there is concern as to who will step up. Russell Farris should be an every-down linebacker along with Brandon Durman, while a pair of redshirt freshmen in Donald Freeman and Collin Scott will try to become effective against the run. This unit received a boost after spring ball with the addition of graduate transfer Dalton Santos from Texas.
The defensive line will feature a pair of strong defensive ends in Jaylon Ferguson and Aaron Brown, but losing NFL-bound Vernon Butler at defensive tackle leaves a gaping hole in the middle.
Previewing Louisiana Tech’s Specialists for 2016
Both kickers and long-snapper Darrell Travis are back. Placekicker Jonathan Barnes nailed 22-of-26 field goals, including 6-of-8 from beyond 40 yards. Punter Gerald Shouse had eight punts of more than 50 yards last season. The punt returner will again be Taylor, and Henderson was an honorable mention All-C-USA kick returner.
With at least eight wins in four of the last five seasons, Louisiana Tech has established itself as one of the stronger Group of 5 programs in the nation. A very challenging September awaits, with non-conference road games against Arkansas and Texas Tech and a visit to C-USA East favorite Middle Tennessee. A green defense and new quarterback may not be ready for that gauntlet, but there are pieces in place for the Bulldogs to put things together in the second half of the season. Expect Louisiana Tech to stay in the top 30 in the nation in points scored. How many they are able to keep off the board will determine if a fourth bowl game in six years becomes a reality.