#82 Louisiana Tech Football 2017 Preview

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Overall Rank: #82
#4 Conference USA
Louisiana Tech went 9-5 last season and ranked second in the country in passing offense and scoring offense. They were a fun team to watch. The Bulldogs have a history of replacing productive players effectively, but there is a lot of that to do this year and it remains to be seen if Coach Skip Holtz has the weapons on his roster to keep the offense rolling in 2017.
2016 Record: 9-5, 6-2
2016 Bowl: Armed Forces Bowl vs. Navy (W 48-45)
Coach: Skip Holtz (31-22 at Louisiana Tech, 119-93 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Todd Fitch
Defensive Coordinator: Blake Baker
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Jarred Craft, RB, 1,074 yards
Passing: J’Mar Smith, QB, 412 yards
Receiving: Jarred Craft, RB, 340 yards
Tackles: Russell Farris, LB, 75
Sacks: Jaylon Ferguson, DE, 14.5
Interceptions: L’Jarius Sneed, DB, 1; Ronald Lewis, DB, 1
Other Key Returnees: TE Jordan Atkins, OL O’Shea Dugas, S Secdrick Cooper, K Jonathan Barnes
Key Losses: RB Scott Boston, QB Ryan Higgins, WR Trent Taylor, WR Carlos Henderson, OL Darrell Brown, OL Joseph Brunson, S Xavier Woods, CB Sam Prince, LB Jordan Harris, LB Lloyd Grogan
Quarterback Ryan Higgins is gone after throwing for 4,617 yards and 41 touchdowns. He will be replaced by J’mar Smith, who started the Arkansas game in the season opener while Higgins was suspended. In that game Smith went 19-of-31 for 212 yards. The Razorbacks were one of the very few teams that were able to contain the Louisiana Tech offense and part of the reason was because Higgins wasn’t playing. Now the Bulldogs will spend an entire season without Higgins. Also gone are receivers Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson, who put up some ridiculous numbers. Taylor caught 136 passes for 1,803 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2016, while Henderson added 82 catches for 1,535 yards and 19 scores. That would be a good career, but for those two it was just a season. Rhashid Bonnette, Kam McKnight and Alfred Smith played well when they were targeted and should see a bigger role this year. Louisiana Tech also adds Tulane transfer Teddy Veal. Despite the gaudy passing numbers, this team needs to be able to run the ball. Jarred Craft returns after rushing for 1,074 yards and the diminutive Boston Scott is an explosive back who should get as many touches as he can handle. As long as the backs can be productive, the passing game will be fine.
The defensive front seven were solid in 2016, but the pass defense was continually burnt for big plays. With Jaylon Ferguson and his 14.5 sacks back to anchor the line, this is a team that will get consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback. There are bigger concerns at linebacker where Russell Farris is by far the most experienced returning option. He recorded 75 tackles and 2.5 sacks during his sophomore season. Secdrick Cooper will lead a secondary that has a lot of questions. He is a big time playmaker, but failed to prevent big plays going the other way. Cornerback Ephraim Kitchen has talent, but needs to stay healthy in order for the defense to take a step forward.
The Bottom Line:
Louisiana Tech will be fun to watch; that much is certain. The offense may not be as potent without Higgins, Taylor and Henderson, but the pieces will fall into place and Coach Holtz will find plenty of receivers for Smith to get the ball to on a regular basis. This time around the ball might get spread around a little more. The key will be on defense where the secondary has to play better and take advantage of the pass rush. A team that gets into the backfield as often as Louisiana Tech should not be allowing the opposition to get easy completions on a regular basis. With the strength of Conference USA appearing to be in the East in 2017, Louisiana Tech has a good shot at winning the West. A home date with Southern Miss on October 21st and another against Florida Atlantic on November 11th could be the deciding games in the West.
Projected Bowl: New Orleans Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 151.4 (94th in nation, 10th in conference)
Passing Offense: 363.4 (2, 1)
Total Offense: 514.7 (9, 3)
Scoring Offense: 44.3 (2, 2)
Rushing Defense: 146.2 (42, 3)
Pass Defense: 274.7 (116, 10)
Total Defense: 420.9 (71, 6)
Scoring Defense: 33.6 (97, 6)
Turnover Margin: 0.07 (64, 7)
Sacks: 3.14 (12, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 2.00 (57, 5)


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