Louisiana Tech Football Preview

Bolstered by 16 returning starters (8 offense, 7 defense, 1 specialist), Louisiana Tech sets out to secure its fifth straight bowl bid.

Tech (7-6, 4-4) is coming off of an up-and-down 2017 campaign. However, the Bulldogs finished strong by winning their final three, including a 51-10 rout of SMU in the Frisco Bowl. Tech, Georgia, Utah and Wisconsin are the only teams in the country to have won four consecutive bowl games.

As expected, the Bulldogs experienced an offensive decline last season following the departure of a plethora of playmakers. Despite a 14.3 points per game decline, the offense still ranked third in Conference USA with 30.5 ppg and fourth in total offense with 403 yards per game.

For the first time in coach Skip Holtz's six-year tenure in Ruston, Tech returns its starting quarterback. J'Mar Smith enters his junior season after passing for 2,974 yards and 16 touchdowns as a first-year regular. With Smith throwing only five interceptions in 409 attempts, the Bulldogs ranked fifth nationally with a plus-13 turnover margin.

The loss of running backs Boston Scott (183 carries, 1,047 yards, 8 TDs) and Jarred Craft (119-532-3) leaves Smith (119-371-6) as the team's top returning ball-carrier.

Junior Jaqwis Dancy (39-262-2, 8 games) and converted wide receiver Kam McKnight (15-42-3) will be asked to fill the void at running back.

Senior Teddy Veal (74 receptions, 950 yards, 7 TDs) emerged as the team's go-to receiver last season, earning co-CUSA Newcomer of the Year accolades. Junior Rhashid Bonnette (33-582-2), sophomore Adrian Hardy (18-251-1, 9 games) and junior Alfred Smith (16-232-1 in 2016) round out the projected starting group. A former Destrehan standout, Smith missed the entire 2017 season with a knee injury.

Senior left guard O'Shea Dugas is the mainstay of an offensive line, which features four returning starters. Senior left tackle Michael Rodriguez, sophomore center Kody Russey and junior right guard Ethan Reed are joined up front by junior right tackle DeVante Lovett.

A vastly-improved defense was a pleasant surprise for the Bulldogs last fall. Shaving 8.2 ppg off of its 2017 points allowed total, Tech allowed 25.4 ppg and 385.5 total ypg.

First-team All-CUSA defensive end Jaylon Ferguson (39 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 2 blocked kicks) anchors a senior-laden front seven. Ferguson's 27.5 career sacks rank second only to Walter Johnson (38) in school history.

Senior end Matthew Ydarraga (33 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles) is the only newcomer to the starting front four.

Seniors Jordan Bradford (38 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks) and Keonatye Garner man the interior.

Dae'Von Washington (70 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 interceptions), the team's leading tackler, and fellow senior Brandon Durman (36 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack) are the starting linebackers.

Amik Robertson proved to be quite a find at cornerback. Starting all 13 games as a true freshman, Robertson picked off a team-high five passes and ranked third on the squad with 62 tackles en route to earning Freshman All-America accolades.

Junior L'Jarius Sneed (30 tackles, 1 INT) steps into a starting role at the other corner.

First-team All-CUSA safety Sedrick Cooper (68 tackles, 3 INTs) was the most significant loss on defense.

Juniors Darryl Lewis (45 tackles, 4 INTs), James Jackson (11 tackles) and Jordan Baldwin (38, 3 TFL) enter camp as the projected starting safeties.

Junior Brady Farlow inherits the kicking duties following the departure of Jonathan Barnes, a Lou Groza Award semifinalist who rewrote the Tech record book. With Farlow (36 punts, 37.6 average) assuming the kicking responsibilities, senior Davan Dyer (19-39.1) takes over as the full-time punter.

Dancy (10 kickoff returns, 30.8 avg.) and Veal (14 punt returns, 6.7 avg., 1 TD) will return kicks.

Tech's season opener is Saturday, Sept. 1, at South Alabama.

LOUISIANA TECH SCHEDULE

DATE OPPONENT TIME

Sept. 1 at South Alabama 6:00

Sept. 8 Southern 6:00

Sept. 22 at LSU TBA

Sept. 29 at North Texas* 6:00

Oct. 6 UAB* 6:00

Oct. 13 at UTSA* 6:00

Oct. 20 UTEP* 2:30

Oct. 26 (Fri.) at Florida Atlantic* 5:30

Nov. 3 at Mississippi State TBA

Nov. 10 Rice* 6:00

Nov. 17 at Southern Miss* 2:30

Nov. 24 Western Kentucky* 11 a.m.