Louisiana Tech’s primary claim to football fame is it produced the No. 1 pick in the 1970 NFL draft – Terry Bradshaw. No such talent has landed in Ruston since, but what has been the rule as opposed to the exception since has been a pattern of up-and-down performance.
Just in the last 10 seasons, the Bulldogs have had four winning seasons – including the last two – five losing seasons and one in which they split 12 games. This year they are 1-3 in Skip Holtz’s first season as head coach. And, as has Army coach Rich Ellerson, he’s been faced with the dilemma of needing to decide on the definitive No. 1 quarterback.
Scotty Young started the season as the starter, but suffered a rib injury two weeks ago against Tulane. Ryan Higgins got his first career start last week against Kansas and completed an incredible 35 of 55 passes for 298 yards and one touchdown in his team’s 13-10 loss to Kansas.
“We are going to have to look at it this week, but certainly Ryan has put himself in there,” said Holtz, whose team will play Army Saturday at the Cotton Bowl. “Scotty is coming back off his rib injury. Was able to play and practice a little bit on Tuesday and just a little bit more on Wednesday, but we just felt like Ryan had a good week and we needed to go with him. There was no reason to risk that. We will look at that this week and we will make that decision. Right now, Ryan has definitely put himself in the ball game and put himself in that driver’s seat with the way that he played last week.”
However, as do most coaches opposing Army, Holtz’s primary concern is his team’s ability to both understand and find a way to confound Army’s triple-option offense.
“Looking at the game itself, Army poses a lot of challenges for you,” he said. “Everyone knows that with the service academies comes the triple option. Defensively you have to play very vanilla. You have to play assignment football, and the way you learn to play it is to have your scout team run their offense and you don’t play with a football. Somebody has to tackle the dive, somebody has to tackle the quarterback, and somebody has to tackle the pitch on every play. It is not following the ball, and running to the ball. It goes against everything that you teach defensively. You have to play assignment-oriented football. [Angel] Santiago their quarterback is the one that makes it go. He does a great job. He is very talented with the offense that they run. I think he does a great job.”
“When I first got into college, the two teams I said I would never want to play, not because I was afraid of them or it would be hard, are Navy and Army,” Tech linebacker Daniel Cobb said. “That is because of their offenses that they run. The whole game is smash-mouth football. If you mess up one time, one little crease, they can go to the house. It is difficult, but I think our coaches are going to get us ready and we will be ready for them.”
Nevertheless, Louisiana Tech’s biggest problem so far has been its offense, or lack thereof. It has scored a total of 39 points in its three losses. The final score in its one victory, against Lamar, was 27-14. Against Kansas, the Bulldogs held the Jayhawks to 117 yards rushing, forced two turnovers, had two fourth-down stops and put Kansas inside its 10 yard line four times. But, like Army – which has scored only 45 points in its three losses – the Bulldogs have had trouble finding the end zone.
“That is probably the glaring thing in the room,” Holtz said. “The lack of productivity in the red zone. Offensively, we got inside the 20 yard line four times [against Kansas] and came away with one score. I thought the completion to [wide receiver] Hunter Lee in the corner of the end zone was a beautiful play. We had some great individual efforts. To get down there and fumble twice inside the 10 and inside the five and then to miss a field goal inside the 20 are things that you cannot do if you want to go win on the road against a Big 12 team. I think those are the glaring things. We gave ourselves a chance to win with a lot of the positive things we did, but we were not able to finish it with some of the mistakes that we made.”
Cobb, a member of a military family, believes the inevitable bantering that permeates games will be missing Saturday.
“I respect Army,” he said. “Most games there is usually a little trash talk every now and then, but I do not think I can trash talk Army. I respect them that much. It is an honor for me to play them because I know it is not about football. After, they have to go serve their terms and they are going to be fighting for our country. The whole game, from the first snap to the end, it will test discipline. I have a lot of respect for those guys with what they do. It is not just about football. They are going to get their dates and assignments after they graduate to go serve our country so I know they are tough. Football is like a break for them. They go out onto the field, they go out into the woods for a week during school and then they get to come take a break and play football. They love it. They are going to fight the whole game. We are going to have to be very disciplined.”
Everybody has their arguable flaws. Louisiana Tech’s is its insistence on how to be referred. For instance, it’s Louisiana Tech, not LT or LTU. And it’s LA Tech (pronounced LAH Tech) not La Tech. The team name is Bulldogs, but they’ll accept ‘Dogs. But not Dawgs. There'll be a quiz on this later.