Two teams looking to bounce back from regular season-ending losses meet in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl when the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs take on the Georgia Southern Eagles on Wednesday afternoon. The Eagles will be traveling 600 miles to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome compared to the in-state Bulldogs' 300.
Louisiana Tech got its season off to a good start with a pair of wins over Southern Miss (31-30) and Houston Baptist before losing 45-14 at BYU. After going 2-2 in the remainder of October — including a 37-34 double-overtime win over UAB — the Bulldogs didn't take the field for more than a month due to COVID-related cancellations. But Louisiana Tech returned from the pause with a 42-31 win at North Texas before a disheartening 52-10 loss at TCU on Dec. 12, in which the Horned Frogs raced out to a 31-0 halftime lead and doubled up the Bulldogs in total yards (494 to 244).
Just like Louisiana Tech, Georgia Southern won three of its first four games in 2020, though the Eagles had some tense moments as two of the wins and the lone loss came by five or fewer points. In fact, close games have been the theme for Georgia Southern all season. Aside from a 28-14 loss to Coastal Carolina on Oct. 24, all four other losses came by single-digit margins — with a total margin of defeat of 17 points across the four — while five of the Eagles' seven wins have been by a touchdown or less.
Wednesday's meeting will be the first-ever matchup between Louisiana Tech and Georgia Southern. Louisiana Tech is a perfect 9-0 all-time against the Sun Belt — with its last win back in 2018, a season-opening 30-26 win against South Alabama — and also came away victorious in its only previous New Orleans Bowl appearance, a 47-28 win over Arkansas State in 2015. Georgia Southern, meanwhile, will be making its inaugural appearance in the New Orleans Bowl, with its only previous game against a Conference USA opponent coming just earlier this month in a 20-3 win over Florida Atlantic.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. Georgia Southern
Kickoff: Wednesday, Dec. 23 at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans)
Spread: Georgia Southern -6.5
When Louisiana Tech Has the Ball
Luke Anthony and Aaron Allen shared quarterback duties throughout the season for the Bulldogs with Anthony getting more of the snaps. Anthony finished the regular season atop Conference USA with 16 touchdown passes and fourth in passing yards (1,479) but he suffered a serious leg injury (compound fracture of right tibia and fibula) in the closing minutes of the loss to TCU, so it will be up to Allen to lead the offense. Allen, a sophomore, has completed 65 percent of his passes but with more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (four).
To complicate matters for Allen, he won't have wide receiver Adrian Hardy to throw to. Hardy, who leads the team with 440 receiving yards and is tied with four touchdown catches, has already opted out and turned his attention to preparing for the 2021 NFL Draft. There are still targets to throw to with Smoke Harris (35 rec., 285 yds., 4 TDs) leading the way. Four other Bulldogs have caught two more touchdown passes this season so Harris won't have to do it all alone necessarily, especially if the run game can step up.
Leading rusher Israel Tucker had a career day against North Texas a couple of weeks ago, finishing with 161 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries but he followed that up with just 28 yards on 10 carries in the loss to TCU. He's averaging a little more than four yards per carry and Louisiana Tech will need to find a way to run the ball because throwing it all the time is not Allen's strong suit and it plays right into Georgia Southern's strength on defense.
The Eagles are tied for second in FBS with 22 takeaways, thanks to a Sun Belt-high eight fumbles recovered and 14 interceptions, the latter of which ranks third nationally behind only Indiana (17) and Louisiana (15). Keep an eye out for cornerback Derrick Canteen, as the redshirt freshman has picked off an FBS-leading five passes in 2020. Georgia Southern has also allowed the second-fewest points among Sun Belt teams in 2020, with its 22.2 points allowed per game trailing only Coastal Carolina's 18.7 and good for a top-25 mark nationally.
When Georgia Southern Has the Ball
The Eagles' triple-option attack flows through their quarterback. But who that will be against Louisiana Tech remains to be seen as injuries have devastated the position. Starter Shai Werts, who leads the team with 649 rushing yards and has eight rushing touchdowns, has missed the past two games because of a shoulder injury. He is practicing with the team again but his status for the bowl is unknown. Backup Justin Tomlin is not an option as he has already undergone ankle surgery. Third-string quarterback Miller Mosley has been getting most of the reps in practice, but the hope is that Werts will be able to return.
Georgia Southern doesn't throw the ball much to begin with (averaging 14 pass attempts per game), which is why the quarterback's ability to run is so critical to this offense, especially considering the position has combined for more interceptions (11) than touchdown passes (eight) thus far. The Eagles also are thin at running back with J.D. King and Wesley Kennedy III out because of injury. Those two are second and fourth, respectively, on the team in rushing with a combined 1,072 yards and 11 touchdowns. Logan Wright (565 yds., 4 TDs, 6.4 ypc) figures to see a heavier workload than usual but the Georgia Southern is not shy of spreading the carries around. Nine different players have logged double-digit rushing attempts this season. But for the most part, the approach works, as the Eagles are fifth in the nation with 262.5 rushing yards per game.
And stopping the run has been a bit of an issue for Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs rank ninth in Conference USA in that department, giving up 184.6 rushing yards per game and 22 touchdowns over nine games. Overall, Louisiana Tech has allowed 30 or more points in three straight games and in seven of nine overall, which has been a key contributing factor in the Bulldogs allowing the fourth-most total yards (425) and points (34.3) per game this season in their conference. Like Georgia Southern, though, Louisiana Tech possesses a ball-hawking unit that has collected 14 takeaways — including nine interceptions — both of which trail only UTSA in the conference.
With both teams' defensive strengths and Georgia Southern's heavily run-focused tendencies on offense, this projects to be a fairly low-scoring game. The problem for the Eagles is the uncertainty at quarterback and a depleted running back depth chart, but head coach Chad Lunsford should still have more than enough productive ball carriers to pick up a win over the Bulldogs.
Prediction: Georgia Southern 23, Louisiana Tech 20
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— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.
(Top photo courtesy of latechsports.com)