Louisiana Tech head football coach Skip Holtz details why his team can’t look past UMass.
Cory Diaz, firstname.lastname@example.org
RUSTON — Is Saturday’s home game against UMass a “trap game” for Louisiana Tech?
One could argue it’s got all the makings of being one. Rivals Southern Miss travels to Ruston and awaits Tech next weekend. On top of that, let’s be frank, the Minutemen (1-5) just aren’t very competitive this year and on paper, don’t appear able to put up much of a fight against the homestanding Bulldogs (4-1).
But of course, it would be wise for Louisiana Tech to come out and handle UMass like it’s fully capable and not struggle against a team it out-mans at just about every position. For the first time, potentially ever, Tech is favored by 31.5 to 32 points in the contest.
Here’s what I’m watching for as the Bulldogs try to extend its best start to a campaign since 2012:
Louisiana Tech depth
Head coach Skip Holtz said over the bye week, the coaching staff gave their twos and threes plenty of work at practice, getting them acclimated to hearing play calls in the offensive and defensive huddles and seeing what their level of execution looks like. I think part of that was by design as Tech knew it was facing UMass coming off the extra week of work and it’s likely a lot of those young players will receive ample playing time at Joe Aillet Stadium Saturday night.
Expect to see plenty of backup quarterbacks Westin Elliott and Aaron Allen, along with other guys like receivers Wayne Toussant, Javonte Woodard, Praise Okorie as well as running backs Deandre Marcus and Elijah Hines.
Name your score
While the starters are in there, Saturday should be a case of the Bulldogs naming its score and putting up however many yards they desire. The Minutemen ranks among the worst FBS teams in most statistical categories including total offense, scoring offense, passing offense, passing efficiency, total defense, rush defense, pass defense and scoring defense, which comes in worst in the country, allowing teams to run up 46.7 points per game. It’s easy to see why Tech is favored by so much.
UMass has given up first series touchdowns in three of its six games so far this season. While Louisiana Tech hasn’t found the end zone since the 35-7 road win at Bowling Green a month ago, the offense should have a great chance to get on the board early, and often.
Not only should Tech be able to start fast on its opening possession but finding plenty of room on first down of drives will be something to watch. UMass has the second-worst first-down defense in the nation with opponents gaining 7.4 yards per play. Sustaining drives should help redshirt senior quarterback J’Mar Smith and the offense pile up points and allow the defense to play with the lead.
UMass bright spot
The way things have transpired for the Minutemen in the first half of this season, there haven’t been many aspects to smile about. But one player has shined the brightest and that’s Isaiah Rogers. And he’s done it in multiple ways. At his cornerback spot, he’s picked off three passes, including one he returned 58 yards for a touchdown in the team’s lone win on the season, 37-28 over Akron.
Where Rogers may be even more dangerous is in the return game. The senior has amassed 552 kickoff returns yards with a long of 75 on 17 attempts, averaging 32.5 yards every time he fields one. Against Charlotte earlier this year, Rogers took a punt return back to the house from 42 yards. It’s rare that a defensive player leads a team in all-purpose yardage, but Rogers does with 117.5 yards per game. Smith will need to know where Rogers is on defense and Tech specialists, kicker Bailey Hale and punter Brady Farlow, should stray away from kicking the ball to him.
Israel Tucker’s return
The redshirt junior running back was seen practicing over the bye week after missing the last three games for Louisiana Tech dealing with what coaches have called a “viral” issue. Tucker is back on the two-deep and I fully expect him to get some playing time against UMass. How much he’ll get after battling his illness is unclear, but I know Holtz and running backs coach Brock Hays will want to get him back out there before the Bulldogs enter a pivotal Conference USA stretch of games that starts next weekend versus Southern Miss.
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Louisiana Tech (4-1) vs. UMass (1-5)
Kickoff: 6 p.m.
Location: Joe Aillet Stadium
Listen: KXKZ 107.5 FM (Ruston)