Rice football and Louisiana Tech don’t have an extensive history, but the series has been rather one-sided since the Bulldogs joined CUSA in 2013.
After three straight nine-win seasons, Louisiana Tech stumbled to a 7-6 finish last in 2017. Things could have turned out quite differently had the Bulldogs not lost three games by one point. Those narrow defeats at the hands of South Carolina, UAB and North Texas kept the Bulldogs away from their first 10-win season as a D1 FBS program.
Head coach Skip Holtz will have a double-digit target placed in front of his team this season. Getting to that mark will be challenging considering a schedule that includes road trips to LSU and Mississippi State in non-conference play. That will require near-perfection in conference play.
Rice and Louisiana Tech have met on the gridiron 10 times. The Owls own a 3-7 record against the Bulldogs and have lost four straight. Righting that record starts one game at a time, but it could be a challenge for the Owls this year. Louisiana Tech fields a promising team in 2018. Here’s how they’ll look on both sides of the ball:
Louisiana Tech has typically boasted well-rounded offensive attacks under Holtz who took over the program in 2013. In his five years leading the Bulldogs he’s constructed offenses that averaged north of 430 yards per game and a lot of points. Last season marked the first time since his first season at LaTech in which his team averaged less than 37 points per game, falling off to 30.5 points per contest.
One of the driving forces behind the variation in points per game was the variation in quarterback play. The Bulldogs’ offense will once again live and die on the decision making of junior quarterback J’mar Smith.
Smith’s back-and-forth quarterback play made every game an adventure through his 13 starts last season. In consecutive weeks he posted these two very different box scores:
Week A: 15-of-28 passing (53.6 percent) for 203 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions
Week B: 7-of-21 passing (33.3 percent) for 101 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception
Week A was a win over UTEP. Week B was a win over UTSA. Both starts by Smith, but his play could not have been more hot-and-cold.
The Bulldogs will benefit from the deep receiving corps led by returning star Teddy Veal (79 receptions for 950 yards and seven touchdowns in 2017). The offensive line returns a ton of experience and will add former LSU offensive lineman Willie Allen to the mix as well.
Running back is another big question mark for the Bulldogs who lose their two leading rushers from a season ago. No one remaining on the depth chart has had any meaningful touches, setting up a wide-open competition between Jaqwis Dancy Jr. and Kam McKnight for lead back duties. A committee approach is most likely here.
Replacing three of their top five tacklers will be the biggest challenge facing LaTech as they enter the 2018 season. The good news is they carry depth at every level on the defense and have more than enough options to plug into the gaps left by Secdrick Cooper, Russell Farris and DaMarion King.
The secondary was one of the best in Conference USA last season thanks in large part to the tandem of Cooper and true freshman Amik Robertson. He forced his way into the starting lineup quickly and led the team in interceptions (five) and pass breakups (six) by the end of the season while also finishing third on the team in tackles.
While Robertson and his companions are locking down the back end, future NFL draft pick senior Jaylon Ferguson is providing the rush up front. The talented defensive end tallied seven sacks last season and is already receiving legitimate first-round buzz. He’s got a long way to go before that happens, but at 6-foot-5, 260 pounds he has the frame that NFL teams will look to build on.
The glue in between those two units will be the linebackers. In addition to last year’s leading tackler Dae’Von Washington the team adds three JUCO transfers including NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year Connor Taylor. A Snow College product, Taylor led the NJCAA in tackles (139) with a stunning 21 tackles for a loss and three sacks.
This unit allowed 25.4 points per game in 2017 and should be even better. If the offense comes along with it the Bulldogs could be looking at a special season in 2018.