Louisiana Tech has won the Conference USA West Division two out of the past three seasons under head coach Skip Holtz. The Bulldogs have done so by and large thanks to a potent offense. Quarterback turnover hasn’t disrupted the offense’s rhythm during this stretch and that will need to be the case again with a new starter taking over. The hope is that the defense will be able to take its own step forward this fall as well. Even with all of the changes on the roster, expect Louisiana Tech to be in the hunt for another division title.
Previewing Louisiana Tech Football’s Offense for 2017
The Bulldogs have had an impressive three-year run on offense, with national rankings of 14th, 19th and second, respectively, in scoring over that span. Interestingly, Louisiana Tech has broken in a new quarterback in each of those seasons, and that will be the case once again in 2017. Sophomore J’Mar Smith takes over for Ryan Higgins, and if all goes well, Louisiana Tech will not be welcoming a new starting quarterback for 2018. Smith is more of a dual threat than Higgins, so expect the Bulldogs to incorporate more designed runs for the QB this season.
The running game is in great shape with 1,000-yard rusher Jarred Craft and breakaway threat Boston Scott back as seniors. The wide receiver corps bids farewell to the incredibly productive Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson (3,338 yards, 31 TDs combined). Two transfers are expected to pick up much of the load. Teddy Veal (Tulane) and Adrian Hardy (former Oklahoma signee) enjoyed excellent springs and will be vital in the four-receiver attack. Alfred Smith is a quick option in the slot, and Kam McKnight plays a tight end/wide receiver role and is effective running the ball in the red zone.
The line returns three solid starters, but there was uncertainty at center and left tackle in the spring.
Previewing Louisiana Tech Football’s Defense for 2017
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As strong as the offense has been, the defense has struggled during Louisiana Tech’s three-year run of nine-win seasons. The Bulldogs were 97th in the nation in scoring defense last season and have been in the top 60 just once in coach Skip Holtz’s four years.
Six starters are gone from last season, but many of the newcomers earned a lot of playing time in reserve roles. The best player on defense is end Jaylon Ferguson, a first-team All-C-USA selection who set the school’s single-season sack record last season with 14.5. Senior Deldrick Canty, an honorable-mention All-C-USA player as a junior, mans the other end and gives Tech some punch up front.
Russell Farris is the lone returning linebacker, but Brandon Durman and DaMarion King are experienced, and junior college transfer Randy Hogan put himself in the mix immediately in the spring.
In the secondary, Secdrick Cooper has a chance to be an all-league safety, but there are questions at the corners. Sophomore L’Jarius Sneed won one job halfway through last season, but the other spot is up for grabs. True freshman Amik Robertson should be given a legitimate shot to start in the fall.
Previewing Louisiana Tech Football’s Specialists for 2017
Two-time Lou Groza Award semifinalist Jonathan Barnes is back. His 32-yard field goal as time expired gave the Bulldogs a 48-45 win over Navy in the Armed Forces Bowl last season. Barnes will handle all placekicking duties. At punter, Australian import Davan Dyer comes in new to the sport. Trained as a rugby player, Dyer has been playing football for six months and took a crash course during spring ball.
Louisiana Tech has a 19–5 record in conference play over the last three seasons and has won the Conference USA West division twice during that time. Returning to the C-USA title game will certainly be a challenge with the losses on the offensive side of the ball, but scoring points has not been an issue for the Bulldogs in recent seasons — even with the turnover at quarterback. What has been a problem: fielding a capable defense. There is, however, room for optimism on that side of the ball with a strong line led by Ferguson. Outside of a road game vs. Western Kentucky, the conference schedule lines up favorably. If the defense can improve, another division title is within reach.
National Ranking: 71
C-USA West Predictions: 1
(Jarred Craft photo courtesy of Getty Images)