Louisiana Tech needed a spark in 2014 after sputtering to a 4-8 finish in Skip Holtz's first year in Ruston. The talk around campus was focused on the quarterback, but the Bulldogs jump started their offense by hiring a new defensive coordinator.
"Coach Diaz and I talked a lot about this in the hiring process," explained LA Tech Head Coach Skip Holtz after a 59-10 win against Western Kentucky. "Manny Diaz is a great football coach. Manny Diaz was a great football coach a year ago. Manny Diaz was a great football coach three years ago. He's got a great mind. I've said this before. He's got a great mind. I think he's a rock star."
"Right now they are playing with some teeth," Holtz added at the time. "I mean, they're playing with a stinger. They're playing with some teeth. I just am really proud and I'm really happy for him because he deserves this with some of the public humiliation that he went through in the past where he was the fall guy."
Diaz rose through the ranks before making a splash as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State in 2010. The Bulldogs finished 17th in rush defense (up from 77 before Diaz arrived) and 22nd in scoring defense. Diaz was quickly hired by Mack Brown at Texas.
In 2011, the Longhorns led the Big 12 in rush defense, pass defense, and total defense. In 2012, Texas allowed just 212 passing yards per game and led the Big 12 in both sacks and tackles for loss.
Texas finished 9-4 in 2012, and the 212 passing yards allowed doesn't look bad considering the Big 12 featured 5 of the nation's top 10 passing offenses. Texas lost 63-21 to #13 Oklahoma and 42-24 to #7 Kansas State. Texas turned the ball over three times against both teams and the Longhorns managed less than 300 yards of offense against the Sooners.
If the defense was being blamed Texas losing to ranked teams in 2012, the offense certainly deserved to share some of the blame. The 2013 season started off with a 56-7 win over New Mexico State. The wheels came off the next week as Texas gave up 550 yards rushing in a 40-21 loss to BYU. Diaz was fired that week.
Diaz had opportunities to stay in a major conference as a position coach, but he wanted a chance to be a defensive coordinator again. Whether he felt like he needed to redeem himself or if he simply felt like defensive coordinator was what he wanted to be; Skip Holtz gave him that chance at LA Tech.
Outside of games against Oklahoma and Auburn, the Louisiana Tech defense has been dominant in 2014, holding opponents to an average of 21.36 points per game.
The numbers by themselves don't jump off the page. The defense improved in both yards and points allowed, but they did not finish in the Top 25 in either category.
Louisiana Tech is 31st in Total Defense at 355.7 yards per game. The Bulldogs are 53rd in Scoring Defense, giving up 25.2 points per game. What makes the defense so tough is the number of turnovers they force: a nation leading 40.
The Bulldogs are 12th in the nation in scoring offense at 37.5 points per game despite only generating 403.8 yards of offense per game. That's up from 366.2 yards per game in 2013, but hardly enough to propel the team from 4 wins in 2013 to 8 wins in 2014. How does the team score all those points?
Louisiana Tech struggled to score last year, averaging 19.2 points per game. They almost doubled that by forcing turnovers. The Bulldogs have scored 164 points off of turnovers. Without those points, Tech's Scoring Offense ranking would plummet from 10th all the way down to 91st at 24.9 points per game. Again, it's an improvement over 2013, but not near as good as it would have been without the new and improved defense.
Tech lived by the turnover in 2014. Against Marshall, the Bulldogs took a lead into the 4th quarter after scoring three touchdowns. The first two were scored on runs of 33 and 30 yards by Dixon after Marshall fumbled. The third was a 19 yard Dixon run after the defense blocked a punt and Levander Liggins returned it to the 19.
The Bulldogs generated just 268 yards of offense against Marshall and 156 of those yards were from Dixon. Take away his three touchdown runs, and Tech managed just 186 yards from scrimmage. The defense is what kept the team in the game and gave them a chance to win in the end.
Louisiana Tech couldn't hang on to the game against Marshall, but the defense has won games for the Bulldogs this season. Against UTSA, Tech was down 10-6 at halftime. On UTSA's first possession of the second half, Terrell Pinson returned a fumble for a touchdown. Less than two minutes later, Pinson intercepted a pass and Tech scored three plays later on a Cody Sokol pass to Sterling Griffin. Two more minutes went by and Pinson had intercepted another pass. This time, Tech scored in two plays as Dixon ran it in from the 8 yard line.
With 7:18 left to go in the third quarter, Tech led UTSA 27-10. The defense (led by Pinson obviously) had single-handedly taken over the game. The defense also completely shut down three bowl teams. UTEp scored 3 points against Tech, WKU scored 10, and ULL scored 20 (7 through three quarters.)
The Bulldogs held some of the top offenses in Conference USA. They held Marshall to just 26 points and the Thundering Herd managed 429 yards of offense. Marshall ranked 2nd in the country with 563 yards per game. Western Kentucky managed just 297 yards against Tech and they still finished 6th in the nation with 525 yards per game.
Conference USA MVP Brandon Doughty was 14-35 for 134 yards against Tech with 1 TD and 4 interceptions. Doughty averaged 362 yards per game this year and that number would have been 382 if he hadn't played against the Bulldogs. Doughty had just 10 total interceptions on the season.
Louisiana Tech landed just one player on the Conference USA All-Defense 1st Team. The real defensive MVP was not a player at all, it was Manny Diaz.