The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, still undefeated in conference play, are looking to stay atop the Conference USA standings this weekend with a win over Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers, coming off a 66-51 win over Old Dominion, are looking to stay in bowl contention with another win. The Hilltopper offense, ranked 5th in passing, is lead by senior quarterback Brandon Doughty. The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs will have their hands full defensively, and will have to keep up offensively. The Bulldogs are led by senior quarterback Cody Sokol offensively for a team that is currently ranked 102nd in rushing yards and 47th in passing yards.
Keys to the Game
Louisiana Tech (by Jason Jones)
1. Get turnovers. Western Kentucky won the turnover battle in their last two wins and in their first win over Bowling Green, they did not turn the ball over at all. The Hilltoppers only won the turnover battle once (against UAB) in their four losses. It's going to be tough to slow down WKU's passing attack, so creating turnovers will be a key factor in having success.
2. Get Cody Sokol going early. Louisiana Tech scored a total of 9 points against UTSA and Southern Miss in the first half. COMBINED. If the Bulldogs can't get going early against Western Kentucky, they might get too far behind to come back. The defense held both USM and UTSA to 20 points, so the offense was able to catch up. That won't be as easy on Saturday.
3. Establish the run. The Bulldogs only rushed for 121 yards against UTSA, then they followed that up with just 30 yards against Southern Miss. Teams are trying to take away Kenneth Dixon by putting extra defenders in the box. LA Tech has to figure out a way to get Dixon going, even with the defense focusing on him. If they can spread the defense out with screen passes to the outside and deep passes, then the safeties will have to back up and give Dixon more room.
4. Catch the ball. True freshmen Marcus Gaines and Marlon Watts played well against Southern Miss, but the entire group of wide receivers had a case of the drops last week. Sterling Griffin should be back this week, so that will help a lot. The Bulldogs are deep on the outside with Gaines, Watts, Griffin, Paul Turner, and Carlos Henderson. With Hunter Lee out for the season, the Bulldog coaches need someone to step up and help Trent Taylor on the inside.
5. Come out with a dynamic game plan and great energy. The Bulldogs seemed to come out flat in the last two games. In the wins over ULL, UNT, and UTEP; Tech seemed to have really diverse play calls and the players were flying around on defense AND offense. Three things should help this week: First, this game is homecoming so the team should have a little extra motivation from that. Second, they are coming off of two lackluster offensive performances, so they will want to right the ship. Third, they can get to six wins and bowl eligibility on Saturday, so it will be good for them to take care of business early and get the job done.
Western Kentucky (by Andrew Thomas)
1. Improvement from week to week. We really haven't seen the Hilltoppers get much better defensively, giving up over 41 points per game this season, but there are glimpses of optimism coming from their fourth quarter shut out in the win against Old Dominion last week. Head coach Jeff Brohm has said that he and defensive coordinator Nick Holt will continue to insert new faces into the defense in attempts to slow down opponents. A redshirt freshman made the game-winning interception last week, and the Hilltoppers will need guys like Juwan Gardner and Wonderful Terry to make more big plays to beat Louisiana Tech this Saturday.
2. Don't get comfortable. Western Kentucky had been notorious for giving up huge leads earlier in the season, but was able to hold off Old Dominion last week. This should be highly encouraging for head coach Jeff Brohm. The play-calling late in the Old Dominion win changed for the better: holding onto the ball for long periods of time (while still scoring points) to give its defense a chance to rest and keep Old Dominion from scoring more points. In its previous losses, it seemed that the Hilltopper offense got conservative and went away from the things that got them to a lead in the first place. Sitting near the bottom of the conference currently, conservative is the last thing the WKU offense should be for the rest of the season.
3. Pound the rock (when necessary). Running back Leon Allen , who rushed for 182 yards on 32 carries last week, made the perfect balance possible for the Hilltopper offense. When the passing game wasn't working, Brandon Doughty would hand the ball off to Allen, and when the run game was getting stale, Doughty would torch the Old Dominion defense through the air. Although Old Dominion's defense is fairly weak, I expect Western Kentucky to keep the momentum going offensively against Louisiana Tech.
4. Turnover ratio. Western Kentucky has won the turnover battle in each of its 3 victories this season, and will need to take care of the football as well as forcing LA Tech QB Cory Sokol into some mistakes. We already know Western Kentucky is capable of big plays on defense; they just need more of them.