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Dooley won’t hang his head with Bulldogs

Editor’s Note: This is the final part of a series previewing football teams in the Western Athletic Conference. Today, the Appeal takes a look at Louisiana Tech.

BY DARRELL MOODY

Appeal Sports Writer

A new era is under way at Louisiana Tech.

Derek Dooley, a former assistant at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins under Nick Saban and son of ex-Georgia coach Vince Dooley, was hired on Dec. 17 with the daunting task of getting the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs back into the upper echelon of the Western Athletic Conference.

This is Dooley’s first head-coaching job. The 39-year-old is the sixth-youngest coach in the NCAA this season.

It will be tough to say the least. Since 2001 when Jack Bicknell guided the Bulldogs to their first and only WAC title, Tech has compiled a 25-35 record.

When Dooley addressed the media at last month’s WAC Media Day, he was pleased with what he’d seen during spring ball.

“I’m extremely pleased with the attitude of the players in the six months that I’ve been in Ruston,” Dooley said. “They have been unbelievable in terms of buying into and doing everything we’ve asked. I’m pleased with the progress.

“Probably the biggest challenge as a new coach is to convince the team that doing it this way is the best thing for them to win games. I feel the team has bought into that.”

Dooley said improving the defense is his first priority, and he went on to tell a funny story on the topic.

“When I was interviewing for and researching the job, I asked people what they thought the problem was. Everybody I talked to said the offense wasn’t what it used to be. I open up the stats and the defense was ranked last in nearly every stat category. Is everyone dyslexic in Ruston?

“The starting point is improving the defense. Anytime you have the year we had last year, you have to go back to the basics. We emphasized fundamentals, scheme discipline, playing with toughness and doing a good job of playing with tremendous effort.”

The biggest defensive challenge for Dooley, who has switched from a 3-4 to 4-3, is finding players who can rush the passer off the edge. He said the key to playing good pass defense is putting pressure on the quarterback.

“Randy Grigsby (defensive end) did a good job in the spring,” Dooley said. Ben McGilton (25 tackles, 1.5 sacks) will line up opposite Grigsby. Wes Day (25 tackles) and Chris Pugh (44 tackles) provide the back-up help on the outside.

D’Anthony Smith (38 tackles) and Josh Muse (48 tackles) are the starters inside, and Dooley has been pleased with their run-stopping ability.

Dooley said that he’s concerned about depth at linebacker despite the fact that the Bulldogs return five linebackers who saw significant playing time.

“I feel we have three good guys,” Dooley said. “They need to learn the scheme. I want them to be the quarterbacks of the scheme on the field.”

Four of the five tacklers from last year’s team were from the linebacking corp.

The group is led by weak outside linebacker Quin Harris, who had a team-leading 95 tackles, and also had four fumble recoveries, a sack and an interception. Marquis McBeath (80 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries) starts on the other side. Brannon Jackson (67 tackles) starts in the middle. Chris Lowery (41 tackles) and Anthony Crosby are back-ups in the middle, while Brian White (6 tackles) and Marvin Lubin (21 tackles) are key back-ups on the outside.

In the secondary, Dooley was impressed with what he saw of Weldon Brown in the spring.

“He has good ball skills,” Dooley said. “We have a couple of physical types at safety (Antonio Baker and Mark Dillard). We have five or six guys back there that can help us.”

Dillard finished with 58 tackles, two interceptions and a sack. Baker had 68 stops, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Shalamar Walker and Tony Moss are vying for the corner spot opposite Brown.

Zac Champion starts his second season at quarterback for the Bulldogs. He passed for 2,466 yards and 14 scores.

“He pulled away this year,” Dooley said. “The biggest challenge for him is to stay away from the two or three critical mistakes that can change the game. He doesn’t have to play great, just play his position.

“Last year when the team got behind he felt the need to force the issue; to make a play.”

Michael Mosley is the back-up. He completed 24 of 49 passes for 321 yards and three scores. Dooley stressed that Mosley needs to be more consistent.

At running back, the Bulldogs return their top three runners – Patrick Jackson (854 yards, 7 TDs), Daniel Porter (454 yards, 2 TDs) and William Griffin (174 yards, 1 TD).

“Patrick Jackson is an excellent leader,” Dooley said. “He’s a very tough runner. We are going to run the football. I think it’s important. It will help our run defense.”

Dooley likes his tight end group of Anthony Harrison (1-13-0), Dennis Morris (16-284-3) and Dustin Mitchell.

“We have three very productive tight ends,” Dooley said. “They all bring something different. We’ll utilize the tight end more than in the past.”

The wide receiving corp, which lost Eric Newman and Jon Holland, is the weakest link in the offense. Josh Wheeler (25-503-4), Shane Womack (3-20-0) and Brian Jackson (3-46-1) are the projected starters. Earl Griffin (3-41) is the only other wide receiver on the roster to catch a pass last season.

“It’s important we find an impact player who can make the big play,” Dooley said.

On the offensive line, three of the Bulldogs’ five starters return, and four of the starting spots are set.

Tackles Tyler Miller and Ryan Considine, and guard David Accardo started every game last season. Lon Roberts is the projected starter at center after a solid spring. Ryan Snell and Ben Harris are battling for the other guard spot. The back-ups are inexperienced, and will have to improve immensely as the season moves ahead.

Chris Keagle (38.4) is back to punt, and Danny Horwedel (8-12 FGs and 30-31 PATs) is the top place-kicker back. He’s being pushed by Brad Oestricher. Dooley said he wasn’t pleased with the consistency from 40 yards and in on place-kicks nor the distance and placement of kickoffs.

• Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281

THE BULLDOG FILE

Coach: Derek Dooley

2006 record: 3-10

Offensive starters returning: 6

Defensive starters returning: 10

Specialists returning: 2