Philadelphia, PA – 2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: Sonny Dyke's third season with the Bulldogs didn't go exactly to plan. Louisiana Tech had high hopes of capturing its second consecutive WAC championship with Colby Cameron (4,147 yards, 31 TDs) under center.
The Bulldogs got off to a strong start with their only loss through their first 10 games coming courtesy of a 59-57 loss in a thriller against Texas A&M. They controlled their own destiny with their two toughest WAC games remaining. Louisiana Tech came up short in overtime versus Utah State and lost again in the regular season finale, 52-43, at San Jose State. The Bulldogs' 9-3 finish made them bowl eligible, but they were left out of the postseason after declining an invitation to the Independence Bowl and being passed on by the Liberty Bowl like they had expected.
Louisiana Tech set a new single-season program record for total offensive yards with 6,935. The previous record was 6,504 total offensive yards recorded in 1998.
Dykes left the school to take on the same position at California in the offseason. Louisiana Tech hired former East Carolina and South Florida head coach Skip Holtz to guide the ship into the Conference USA. Holtz went 38-27 and took the Pirates to four bowl games during his tenure in Greenville from 2005-09. He led the Bulls to the Meineke Car Care Bowl and an 8-5 finish in 2010, but was fired after going 8-16 over the past two seasons.
OFFENSE: Louisiana Tech led the FBS in both total offense (577.9 yards per game) and scoring offense (51.5 points per game) in 2012 with Cameron under center. Texas Tech transfer Scotty Young has the potential to be an excellent replacement as he was one of the top quarterback prospects in the nation prior to college. He hasn't taken a snap in a collegiate game so far in his career, but his coach was pleased with his showing in the spring game.
"I thought Scotty did a nice job," Holtz said. "He did a good job of protecting the ball today. He did a nice job with the two-minute drive right before halftime with taking the team down the field and putting them in the end zone. I thought he did some really good things today. I thought Scotty really did a nice job of running the offense. He's playing with more confidence, especially for someone who has played as little as he has."
The Bulldogs have to find new leaders at wide receiver also after graduating Quinton Patton (1,392 yards, 13 TDs) and Myles White (718 yards, six TDs). Senior D.J. Banks (5-9, 185) made 33 catches for 434 yards last season, but other wideouts like Hunter Lee, Andrew Guillot and Paul Turner will need to emerge as playmakers.
Louisiana Tech has a standout at tailback in sophomore Kenneth Dixon. He was the 35th leading rusher in the FBS as a rookie with 1,194 yards and led the nation with 27 touchdowns, which also established a new WAC record. Dixon gained 6.0 yards per carry despite registering just under 200 attempts. He will have trouble duplicating those numbers without a strong passing game to open up rushing lanes. Another obstacle will be the Bulldogs' offensive line, which returned only Matthew Shepperd (6-3, 305) from last season's starting front five.
DEFENSE: The defensive unit for Louisiana Tech was also left with plenty of holes to fill. Only three starters from 2012 are back, but change in personnel may be a good thing considering the team finished 120th in total defense (526.1 ypg) and 116th in scoring defense (38.5 ppg).
"You are talking about a lot of youth in that secondary and a lot of inexperience in that secondary," said Holtz. "That is one place you don't want to be young and you don't want to be inexperienced. But the third thing you are looking for more than that is you don't want to be not athletic. When you look at Kentrell Brice, [Bryson] Abraham and some of the other guys that are back there, we have a lot of athleticism in that secondary. They are just young and inexperienced."
Junior cornerback Le'Vander Liggins is the only returning starter to the five- man secondary. Junior Mike Schrang (46 total tackles in 2012) is a solid option to start at middle linebacker, while junior Mitch Villemez and sophomore Beau Fitte will both be a part of the rotation.
The front line is the most secure point of the defense thanks to Shakell Lucas (6-2, 285), Justin Ellis (6-2, 330) and IK Ememkpali (6-2, 250), who led the team with 7.5 tackles for loss and six sacks a season ago.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The battle to be the team's new starting place kicker between sophomore Kyle Fischer and freshman Jonathan Barnes will come down to who performs best in fall camp. The same goes for the punter position as sophomores Logan McPherson and Gerald Shouse both hope to replace the two-time Ray Guy Award winning Ryan Allen.
Banks is an elite returner because of his speed and vision. Holtz will most likely continue to use him on special teams regardless of how big his role in the offense grows.
OUTLOOK: Louisiana Tech's move to the C-USA should go smoothly under Holtz, who has previously done very well in the league. The Bulldogs will need to improve drastically defensively to compete for the league championship right away, but they will be a tough opponent every Saturday.
They begin their season at NC State, but play their next two at home versus FCS opponent Lamar and C-USA rival Tulane. Louisiana Tech will then play its final two non-conference games at Kansas and versus Army on a neutral field as part of the Heart of Dallas Classic. Its remaining schedule consists of league tilts against Texas-El Paso, North Texas, FIU, Southern Miss, Rice, Tulsa and Texas-San Antonio.
"I am tremendously excited for the opportunity to build on what Coach Dykes started and to lead this great team forward," said Holtz. "This is a football program with outstanding student athletes, a history of winning and optimism in the future. In my conversations with the administration and search committee, it became clear that we share the same goal: to achieve a consistent record of excellence and a national reputation for winning with integrity."
There is way too much turnover to expect Holtz to keep the program from taking a couple steps backwards. Dixon is talented enough to win C-USA Player of the Year, but his supporting cast could end up holding him back.