This is the sixth in a series of articles previewing Western Athletic Conference football teams. Today, the Appeal takes a look at Louisiana Tech.
BY DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer
Louisiana Tech experienced the expected up and downs under first-year head coach Derek Dooley.
The Bulldogs went 5-7 with a final-game loss to Nevada costing them a shot at a post-season game. Tech played well in losses to Hawaii, Fresno State and San Jose State, and not so well in blowout losses to BCS powers Cal and LSU. About what you would expect from a team under .500.
"They (the players) understand the expectations; our philosophies," Dooley said at the WAC Football Preview Day. "It's clearly a work in progress. I was pleased as the year went along. We played better football."
The Bulldogs' coach said that he expects the defense to be improved. Five times Tech gave up 40 or more points, including 58 against LSU and 49 against Nevada.
"We've made tremendous strides on defense, especially defense against the run which is where you start," Dooley said. "If you can't stop the run, you're going to have a hard time playing defense."
The defense returns five starters, including defensive tackle D'Anthony Smith (6-2, 302), free safety Antonio Baker (5-11, 208) and linebacker Quin Harris (6-2, 232), one of three Californians on the squad.
Baker lived around the football, racking up 118 tackles, three interceptions, seven pass break-ups and two fumble recoveries. Harris was No. 2 in tackles with 101 and 11 pass break-ups. Smith had 43 stops, seven behind the line and three sacks.
"I'm expecting big things from D'Anthony," Dooley said. "He has a future at the next level. Antonio is a physical all-around player. He fits well in the scheme."
Mason Hill (6-2, 255) teams with Smith at defensive tackle with Ramone Randle (6-2, 297) being the key reserve. Sophomore Randy Grigsby (6-3, 242) and junior Kwame Jordan (6-3, 245) will start at defensive end. There isn't much experience on the outside with freshmen Eric Harper and Matt Broha. Jordan, a JC transfer, had 17 sacks a year ago.
Brannon Jackson (6-1, 256) and Brian White (6-1, 217) flank Harris at linebacker. Jackson had 121 stops in his two previous seasons and White had just two tackles in limited action.
"Brannon is the wild card," Dooley said. "We held him out of contact. Training camp will be his first time in action in a year and a half."
It is slim pickings behind the trio of starters, as Nolan Darby, Dominique Faust and Kiamni Washington got few snaps on defense.
The Bulldogs had one of the top secondaries in the nation last year with 19 interceptions, and Tony Moss is the only starter that isn't returning.
Joining Baker at safety is Deon Young, who had 72 tackles and four interceptions. Weldon Brown, who was recruited as a running back, returns for his senior season at corner along with Terry Carter, a redshirt freshman. Stevon Howze and Josh Victorian are the main reserves at cornerback, while Tarence Calais is the top back-up at safety.
"Weldon is a soid corner," Dooley said. "The big question mark is the other corner."
On offense, the Bulldogs return eight starters, including running back Patrick Jackson, who gained 950 yards rushing. Back blocking for him are sophomore tackle Rob McGill (6-7, 305), guard Jared Miles (6-3, 333) and center Lon Roberts (6-3, 280).
Also back are wide receivers Philip Beck and Phillip Livas plus tight ends Anthony Harrison and Dustin Mitchell, who also will be used as a fullback. Livas had 28 catches for 504 yards, while Beck had 30 for 359. Harrison led the way with 33 grabs for 293 yards. Mitchell, who has made significant improvement according to Dooley, was fourth with 29 catches.
The biggest question mark is at quarterback, as Zac Champion has graduated. Ross Jenkins and a pair of transfers, Taylor Bennett from Georgia Tech and Steven Ensminger from Auburn.
Bennett started every game for the Yellow Jackets last year, throwing for 2,136 yards and seven scores. He had already graduated from Tech and received an academic waiver. He has one year of eligibiity remaining.
"Jenkins out of spring practice is the starter," Dooley said. "I don't know who the quarterback will be. We'll need them both (Jenkins and Bennett).
"Taylor is very knowledgable. When it didn't work out for him at Georgia Tech, he wanted to go somewhere where he had the opportunity to play."
Tech is set at running back with Jackson and Daniel Porter. The latter ran for 596 yards and six scores. William Griffin will spell Jackson and Porter.
"We have two great running backs," Dooley said. "Jackson was second-team all-conference. He was hobbled all year with a toe injury. He had surgey in the off-season, and he didn't go through spring practice. Porter is critical to the team."
Jackson is anxious to get started.
"I'm looking forward to getting back on the field," Jackson said. "I haven't felt this good since high school."
Dooley said wide receiver is a concern. Livas and Beck combined for only four touchdowns. He wants to see bigger plays and more scores from this group.
David Accardo (6-4, 318) will start at left guard and Cudahy Harmon (6-8, 320) will be at right tackle.
The special teams are led by punter Chris Kaegle, who averaged 41.3 gross and 37.0 net last year. Brad Oestricher takes over for Danny Horwedel at place-kicker. In 2004, he kicked two field goals and nine PATs.
- Contact Darrell Moody at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (775) 881-1281
Aug. 30 - MISSISSIPPI STATE; Sept. 6 at Kansas; Sept.20 SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA; Oct. 1 - at *at Boise State; Oct. 11 * at Hawaii; Oct. 18 - *IDAHO; Oct. 25 - at Army; Nov. 1 - *FRESNO STATE; Nov. 8 - *at San Jose State; Nov. 15 - *UTAH STATE; Nov. 22 - *at New Mexico State; Nov.29 - *NEVADA