As far as losses go, few teams experienced as many prior to the 2017 season as the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. Ryan Higgins left after throwing for 4,617 yards and 41 touchdowns. Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson combined for 3,338 receiving yards and a whole bunch of touchdowns. A big drop-off on offense was expected. It came. The Bulldogs went from 44.3 points per game and 7.5 yards per play to 30.5 points per game and 5.7 yards per play. But, Skip Holtz still got his team to a bowl game and the Bulldogs pummeled SMU in the Frisco Bowl to finish with a winning record once again.
Holtz has only had one losing season in Ruston since he took over in 2013. He didn’t win nine games for the first time since 2013, but posting a winning season with the significant offensive losses was still highly impressive. It was a defensive improvement that spearheaded the whole thing, as the Bulldogs went from 33.6 points per game down to 25.4 points per game and also shaved off 0.2 yards per play. With 15 returning starters for 2018, the Bulldogs should secure another winning season.
A winning season would be good, but the expectations are higher for Holtz and the Bulldogs. Louisiana Tech is the third favorite in the Conference USA odds at 5Dimes at +800, which makes them the favorite to win the West Division as well. BetOnline shows a season win total of 6.5 with the over at -125. 5Dimes is at 7, with the under at -135. Keep in mind that these win total odds do not include conference championship games or bowl games.
|Date||Opponent||BangTheBook Line||Expected Wins|
|9/1||@ South Alabama||-9.5||.75|
|9/29||@ North Texas||+2||.47|
|11/3||@ Mississippi State||+24||0|
|11/17||@ Southern Miss||-4||.62|
Expected Wins: 7.20
J’Mar Smith had some huge shoes to fill, and he did so admirably. Smith completed just 56 percent of his passes, but he only threw five interceptions and had over 3,300 total yards. The Bulldogs was +13 in turnover margin, largely because Smith took such good care of the pigskin. Amazingly, this is the only second-year starter for Holtz during his tenure in Ruston and he’s only a junior. Teddy Veal stuffed the stat sheet with 74 grabs for 950 yards. The Tulane transfer’s 74 catches led the team by 41 over Rhashid Bonnette. In fact, Veal’s 74 catches fell just one short of the next three receivers combined. Expect improvement here in the second season, especially with third-leading receiver Adrian Hardy now a sophomore.
It was hard for Louisiana Tech to replace the production that they lost in the passing game. Now, it will be the ground game that needs attention. Jarred Craft had a down season last year, but Boston Scott kept alive the four-year string of 1,000-yard backs. Scott had 1,047 yards and eight touchdowns with 5.7 yards per carry. Both Scott and Craft are gone, which leaves the top returning rusher as Jaqwis Dancy, who did have 6.7 yards per carry, but only had 39 opportunities. There are four returning starters to the offensive line and Willie Allen, who was originally at LSU and played JUCO ball last season. Expect this offense to be more potent this season.
The Bulldogs defense was the reason why Louisiana Tech went bowling. Sure, the offense was good enough, but a repeat performance of 2016 would not have gotten it done. Credit there goes to Blake Baker, who is now in his third season. Baker got the most out of the defense last season and true freshman Amik Robertson was a surprise standout at cornerback. The Bulldogs had 19 interceptions against just 17 touchdown passes and those 19 picks were a huge factor in the team’s outstanding turnover margin.
Seven starters are back on that side of the ball. Sedrick Cooper is a notable loss, but Jaylon Ferguson is back for his senior season and he is good enough to make up for a lot of deficiencies. Ferguson had a down year last year as teams gameplanned to stay away from him. He had 14.5 sacks in 2016, but only managed seven in 2017. He is a player that impacts the game, even if he doesn’t make a play. The Bulldogs were dramatically better against the pass last season, but really fell off against the run. That will be Baker’s chief goal this season after LA Tech allowed 4.7 yards per carry in 2017.
Louisiana Tech has a very light schedule, but a Week 3 bye week is a real downer. The Bulldogs play South Alabama, Southern, LSU, and Mississippi State in non-conference, so they’re likely to split those four games, but they avoid Marshall and Middle Tennessee from the East. They will go to Florida Atlantic, so the SEC games and FAU look like clear losses. Outside of that, a September 29 trip to Denton could decide the division.
Pick: Over 6.5 (-125, BetOnline)
Do you want to take Over 7 at plus money or pay -125 on 6.5? That is the question here. To me, Louisiana Tech looks like an 8-4 team at worst, with three guaranteed losses at LSU, Mississippi State, and FAU and a clear underdog spot at North Texas. It would be a downer to hit seven wins and push, even though LA Tech looks capable of more than that. The turnover margin could very well regress and cause problems, but at the same time, Skip Holtz and Todd Fitch have done well with quarterbacks and Smith is the first returning starter for Holtz in his five years with the Bulldogs. That should lead to a lot of optimism. Louisiana Tech is also worth a look to win Conference USA with a good chance to face Florida Atlantic at season’s end.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
Louisiana Tech has won nine games in each of the last three seasons. Skip Holtz has done a nice job making this program a perennial contender in Conference USA. The Bulldogs lost 22 lettermen, so the team will look a lot different this year. Still, expectations are no lower for this team.
Louisiana Tech has gone to a bowl and won a bowl game three straight times. They haven’t yet won a Conference USA title in this period, though they have been close two times. Last year, Western Kentucky beat them in a 58-44 shootout in the title game. In 2014, they lost 26-23 to Marshall in the title game.
Holtz’s team believes they can finally get over the top this year and capture the top spot in the conference. The Bulldogs are listed at +550 to win Conference USA at BetOnline.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Schedule:
|9/16||@ Western Kentucky||Loss|
|9/23||@ South Carolina||Loss|
Louisiana Tech put up video game numbers on offense last year. The Bulldogs averaged 44.3 points per game and 7.5 yards per play. All year long they were in the top five in just about every major offensive category. Ryan Higgins is gone, and he was their leader at quarterback. Higgins threw for 4,617 yards a year ago. That’s really hard to replace, but I think Louisiana Tech has a good quarterback ready to go in J’Mar Smith.
Smith is more of a dual-threat quarterback than Higgins was, so I would expect the Bulldogs to put in more run/pass option plays for Smith. Scouts say Smith throws a great deep ball, but he needs to be more consistent on his short and intermediate passes. Since the Bulldogs had massive leads several times, Smith got a decent amount of playing time last year, and that can only help.
Kenneth Dixon set all sort of records at Louisiana Tech, and then the year after he left the Bulldogs averaged even more yards per carry. Those expecting a drop off in the running game here didn’t get it. Jarred Craft and Boston Scott are a tremendous tandem in the backfield, and they’ll be great again this year. The offensive line should be very good again led by O’Shea Dugas, who is excellent at the left guard position.
The biggest question mark on offense is wide receiver. The Bulldogs lost both Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson, and those guys caught a whopping 136 and 82 passes last year respectively. They don’t have anyone that is the caliber of those guys, but I don’t think the Bulldogs are devoid of talent at wide receiver by any means. A step back for sure, but they are still solid.
The defensive line is absolutely loaded. Louisiana Tech allowed only 3.9 yards per carry last year, and I’m confident they’ll allow less than that this season. Jaylen Ferguson gives the team an elite edge rusher. Ferguson set the school record with 14.5 sacks last year. In all, Louisiana Tech had 44 sacks a year ago. This is an aggressive defensive front that will wreak havoc in opponents backfields again this season.
The team lost two key linebackers, and there are clearly some unknowns at this spot. Russell Farris will be the senior leader of this unit. In general, Louisiana Tech’s linebackers have to get much better at holding their own when they drop into coverage.
The secondary is a major weakness for Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs allowed opponents to complain a ridiculous 65.4% of passes a year ago. The Bulldogs have a lot of new faces in the secondary, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing after putting up those numbers, but I do think this is a unit that will be picked on once again in the year ahead.
This defense will be great at stopping the run and rushing the passer, but they’ll give up a lot of yards through the air.
The Bulldogs lost a great kick returner and a great punt returner, so their special teams play isn’t likely to be as good as a year ago. I do think this is a team that is very focused on winning a conference title though. Holtz and the coaching staff have this team believing they can do it, and I don’t think motivation will be an issue here.
Win Total Pick: Over 8.5
The Bulldogs play a tougher non-conference schedule than most teams in this conference do, so betting over the total is a little tricky. I don’t love this one, but my lean is definitely to the over. I do like the value on Louisiana Tech to win Conference USA at +550 though. That number is too big for me to pass up. There are quite a few weak teams in the conference, and I feel like there are only three or four teams capable of winning the title.