Louisiana Tech writer Jason Jones and I exchanged emails on Saturday's game between Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech. This is part 2 of our conversation.
PM: How do Bulldog fans feel about Skip Holtz? I know some were skeptical after the initial hiring and those fears increased after last year's squad went 4-8. Pretty good start thus far in 2014, but what is the overall consensus on Holtz from LaTech fans?
JJ: The fans are starting to come around. He was coming off of a losing record at USF and the offense struggled so much last year that fans were grumbling. He has a proven track record from his time at East Carolina, so he knows how to win in Conference USA. He put together a great staff and now he is getting the players in that he needs. Winning solves everything so if they keep winning this year everyone will be on the bandwagon.
PM: How important is the 'Rivalry in Dixie' to Bulldog players and fans? The series was renewed only four years ago (after a 18 year hiatus) but it looks like both schools will play each other every year with USM and LaTech sharing a division in Conference USA.
JJ: It's important for Tech fans for sure. After years of trying to separate from the other schools in Louisiana, Tech fans really wanted to be in a conference with Southern Miss, UAB, and Rice, among others. With Southern Miss having such a history of success, Louisiana Tech has patterned a lot of things they do after USM and the fans really want this to be a big rivalry.
PM: Louisiana Tech is undefeated in CUSA play and has a blowout road win against a decent Louisiana team. So, how did they lose to FCS foe Northwestern State, a middle of the road Southland Conference team?
JJ: It's all about the turnovers. Fumbled punt, interception, fumble by your best player; turnovers will get you beat by just about anybody. It was a perfect storm, but Northwestern State made the plays to take advantage of it.
PM: What are Louisiana Tech's strengths? Weaknesses?
JJ: The strength of the team is the run defense. Manny Diaz brings a new attitude to the defense; they are going to get after the quarterback and try to force him into quick throws and they are going to try and shut down the run. On offense, Kenneth Dixon and Cody Sokol are the strengths, but they need the other nine guys on offense working with them if they are going to be successful.
The weakness of the team right now is speed on the outside. Paul Turner has not been able to get 100% healthy and a couple of Tech's junior college guys have not panned out. Carlos Henderson has been a bright spot, but there isn't much depth. The weakness of the defense is they are susceptible to big plays in the passing game because they blitz so much. It's a gambling type defense and sometimes they will get burned. They are counting on having more success than failures and so far it has worked.
PM: What players stand out for the Bulldogs? Any possible NFL Draft prospects?
JJ: This year, right tackle Mitchell Bell and middle linebacker Tony Johnson could be mid to late round picks. The Bulldogs have put several players in the NFL the last few years and these two could continue that trend. Both players have tremendous size and athleticism - they already look like NFL players. The most talented players on the team and the ones better players.
The most talented players on the team and the ones that are most likely to get drafted are juniors. Kenneth Dixon has all the attributes an NFL running back needs and Summitt, MS native Vernon Butler is a 6-3 320 lb. defensive tackle that also has the size and athleticism. Paul Turner could get drafted if he has a healthy senior season next year. It's early, but some of the younger guys to look for in the future are Carlos Henderson and Xavier Woods. They are both in their second year in Ruston, but they are already two of Tech's better players.