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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Opponent preview: Louisiana Tech

It's a light week between SEC media days and Aug. 4, the day Auburn players report for practice, so we need something to fill the time. Well, I've contacted beat writers for each team on the Tigers' schedule this year and asked them five questions to get an idea of what Auburn might be up against.

If this sounds like a blatant rip-off of our Georgia beat writer David Hale's idea following spring practice, well, that's because it is. Hey, a good idea is a good idea. I'm not ashamed to say I didn't come up with it.

I'd like to run one of these each day over the next two weeks and will have a tentative schedule posted on the right side of the page. Some of the answers are trickling in, though, so there might be alterations based on that.

Now let's get to Auburn's Week 1 matchup:

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
  • Head coach: Derek Dooley (3rd season, 13-12)
  • 2008 record: 8-5, (5-3 WAC), beat Northern Illinois in Independence Bowl
  • Returning starters: 16 (9 offense, 7 defense)
  • Total offense: 343.1 (6th WAC, 75th nationally)
  • Total defense: 376.5 (4th WAC, 73rd nationally)
  • Series: Auburn leads 10-0-1
  • Last meeting: Auburn won 52-7 at home in 2004
  • Consensus prediction: Fourth place in the WAC
Five-week schedule glimpse
  • Sept. 5: Auburn
  • Sept. 12: at Navy
  • Sept. 19: Nicholls State
  • Sept. 30: Hawaii
  • Oct. 9: at Nevada
The Bulldogs are riding high after Dooley, in only his second season as coach, led them to their first bowl victory in 31 years, a 17-10 win against Northern Illinois in the Independence Bowl. It stands to figure that Dooley won't be hanging around in Ruston for long (fast-rising coaches get gobbled up by big programs all the time, especially one with his pedigree). But for now, he's at Louisiana Tech and has a veteran team that might, just might, give Auburn some trouble in that first week.

To find some answers, I contacted Jimmy Watson of the Shreveport Times, whose blog you can read here. You can also find more of his stuff online here.

AB: Expectations are high in Ruston after the Bulldogs went 8-5 last year and won their first bowl game since 1977. With non-conference games against Auburn, LSU and Navy, along with the usual battles against their longtime WAC nemeses Boise State and Fresno State, can this team improve on last season's success?
JW: Tech can improve on the 2008 success, although it may not show up on the record. The table is really being set for 2010 when Tech will basically have seven home games, a senior quarterback, two SEC transfers at wide receiver and an SEC running back (Tennessee transfer). Tech should be in the hunt for the WAC title this season and may have its best chance yet to knock off perennial WAC power Boise State in Ruston.
AB: Louisiana Tech returns 16 starters (9 offense, 7 defense), its fast-rising coach and a ton of confidence from last year's success. Auburn is breaking in a new coaching staff, with an unsettled quarterback situation in what will be Gene Chizik's pressure-filled first game on the sidelines with the Tigers when the teams meet in the opener on Sept. 5. What kind of chance do the Bulldogs have of pulling the upset?
JW: Tech snuck up on Mississippi State last season and pulled off the upset, but that was in Ruston. Tech has traditionally played well in the state of Alabama, beating the Crimson Tide twice and nearly knocking off Auburn in 2000 (38-28) and 2001 (48-41 ot). The Tech coaching staff has consistently upgraded its talent over the past three seasons, but doesn’t have SEC caliber talent. Are they capable of beating Auburn … sure. Is it likely to happen … no. I’d expect an opening line in the 14-point range.
AB: The Bulldogs thrived last year once head coach Derek Dooley turned to quarterback Ross Jenkins, who went 6-2 as a starter while putting up decent stats. Playing behind an experienced offensive line with a solid running back (Daniel Porter) and receiver (Phillip Livas), can Jenkins duplicate or even improve on his success from last season?
JW: Jenkins will need to improve on his throws to make his team competitive against the Tigers. Porter and Livas are first-team All-WAC performers and can give anyone fits. But Jenkins will have to make some throws down field, something he was weak at last year, or the game could get ugly. One good point about Jenkins is that he manages the game well, which Is what Dooley asks him to do. He won’t make a lot of mistakes.
AB: Louisiana Tech is solid up front defensively, with all-WAC defensive tackle D'Anthony Smith heading a deep defensive line. But the team lost a lot on the back end of the defense, including linebackers Quin Harris and Brannan Jackson and both starting cornerbacks, Weldon Brown and Stevon Howze. Who are the candidates to replace them and are they capable of making the Tech defense the backbone of the team once again?
JW: Even with the loss of the heady Harris, Tech’s linebacking corps should be solid, although there’s not a lot of depth. Junior Dusty Rust, sophomore Adrien Cole and senior Brian White will be the starters and all of the backups are young. Tech returns the best safety in the WAC and a Sunday player next year in Antonio Baker, an incredible hitter. JUCO transfer Olajuwan Paige will help ease the loss of Brown, while sophomore Terry Carter saw plenty of playing time last season and will replace Howze. D’Anthony “Boo” Smith is a man and will lead a young, but aggressive, defensive line.
AB: Dooley is a coaching name on the rise, having completely reversed the fortunes of a team that went 3-10 two years ago, before he inherited it. He's already interviewed for at least one job, even though the Auburn meeting might have been more of a gesture to his father. How long will he stick around in Ruston?
JW: I don’t think he will leave until he accomplishes much of the agenda that he has in his mind. That could change, of course, if the perfect job (Georgia, LSU) opened, but I don’t think he’ll jump at just any BCS job. He’s making plenty of money in Ruston, his wife is a doctor in Ruston, they like the small town atmosphere and right now he’s king of the mountain. Tech folks are just riding the Dooley train for as long as it’ll take ’em.
NCAA '10 on the PlayStation3 says ... Auburn 30, Louisiana Tech 3. After going into halftime with only a 7-0 lead, the Tigers outscore the Bulldogs 23-3 in the second half. Kodi Burns goes 20-for-39 for 301 yards, with two touchdown passes to Tim Hawthorne and another to Montez Billings. Ben Tate adds a workmanlike 11 yards and a touchdown on the ground, while the defense holds Tech to 281 total yards.

Up next: The SEC opener against Mississippi State.

4 comments:

notabanker said...

Wow La. Tech returns 16 starters coming off an 8-5 season. I know they are in the WAC and Auburn should win...but this opponent could be quite difficult in a season opener especially since Auburn is looking to rebuild its confidence a bit.

Andy Bitter said...

I'd agree. As far as season-openers go, maybe Auburn would prefer to have Furman on the schedule instead a team like Louisiana Tech.

I, like Jimmy Watson, think the Tigers will be favored, but weird things happen in openers, and it's a volatile situation with a new coach and a new offense. Sometimes thinks don't start off smoothly.

I think this is Auburn's most dangerous non-conference game, right up there with West Virginia.

Anonymous said...

Andy,

Love the NCAA 2010 projections, but have not played the game yet. How accurately do you think the EA Sports folks were in assessing Auburn's talent and starting lineup? Also noticed you're playing the game with Burns as the starter. Does that mean you're expecting him to emerge with the job?

Andy Bitter said...

I just went with the default starter, which was Burns. And I'm simulating the games, so I'm not in any way influencing the outcomes (I'm pretty bad at the game right now, so that might be a good thing for Auburn).

The roster is pretty off, I think. For starters, they don't have the right players. Tray Blackmon is the starting MLB and he's awesome. Josh Bynes is the third-string MLB (behind Eltoro Freeman) and he's not that great. I'm just treating Blackmon's character as Bynes. I think they really dropped the ball in that ranking.

It also has who I think is Merrill Johnson at one of the outside linebacker spots and Chris Slaughter at receiver. So like I said, it's a little off. But what can you expect when you the game designers probably have to start working on the rosters and such by March?