Date: Saturday September 2, 2017
Kickoff Time: 6:00 PM CT
Location: Ruston, LA
Stadium: Joe Aillet Stadium
Streaming: Watch ESPN
Series Record: La Tech leads 53-20-5
Last Meeting: 2014, NSU 30-27
First, a shameless personal plug. My first article for Underdog Dynasty, and in general, was the La Tech vs Arkansas preview to open last season. That means this article represents one full year with Underdog Dynasty for me, and I can’t thank the good people here enough for tolerating me this long and giving me this opportunity.
Now for the game.
Old rivals La Tech and Northwestern State prepare to open their 2017 campaigns against each other in Ruston. This is their third game since the end of the old State Fair series, which saw the Dawgs and Demons face off (usually in Shreveport) every year from 1926-1987. The series ended as Tech prepared to make the move to the I-A level in 1989. Although the annual series has been long over and they only play rarely, there is still some animosity, especially from the folks in Natchitoches. The Demons pulled off the upset a few years ago, leading some of the NSU faithful to quietly believe they could do it again, despite a poor overall showing from their team last year. The Dawgs, meanwhile, will likely want revenge, especially the seniors who remember that game.
Louisiana Tech Overview
It’s year five for Skip Holtz and expectations are higher than ever in Ruston. The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs are coming off three straight nine-win seasons with bowl wins and two division titles. There comes a time, however, where you have to do better, and Tech fans hope to see that in 2017.
Louisiana Tech will be, for the zillionth year in a row, breaking in a new quarterback in J’Mar Smith. The redshirt sophomore impressed in his lone start last year against Arkansas, but has only thrown 43 career passes. Still, he didn’t seem phased by the moment in Fayetteville, which is a reason for optimism. Tech’s two stud receivers of the past few years also have to be replaced, but there is talent and depth at the receiver position. Names to watch include Teddy Veal, Alfred Smith, Marlon Watts, Marcus Gaines, Kam McKnight, and Adrian Hardy.
Helping to take pressure off the passing offense will be the run game. Both of last year’s dynamic duo of Jared Craft and Boston Scott return, along with three starters on the offensive line. Add in Smith’s ability as a runner in addition to being a passer and you have have a solid run game, especially early in the season while the quarterback and receivers may still be getting in sync.
The defense will need to improve from last year, but there’s some good talent there. The defensive line will be the strength, anchored by Jaylon Ferguson and Deldrick Canty at the ends. Linebacker Russell Farris and Safety Secdrick Cooper hope to lead their respective units to a better showing than last year, and the entire defense has a noticeable chip on their shoulders.
Northwestern State Overview
The Demons have been on a steady downward dive the past few seasons, finishing 1-10 (0-9 SLC) last season, their only win being against DII opponent Kentucky Wesleyan. They’re hoping to do better this season, and a win over their old foe would be a huge way to start the season.
NSU will give senior J.D. Almond the start at quarterback. The senior has some experience, with six total career starts (three last season). He hasn’t led the Demons for an entire season, or even a half-season, but he does have some in-game experience that could help him get going quickly. He will be aided by having a reliable target in senior wide receiver Bobby Chan-Chan.
Northwestern State’s biggest issue is that they haven’t beaten a Division I team since November 21, 2015, when they defeated conference rival Stephen F. Austin in Natchitoches. It’s going to take a lot of work to improve from that.
Northwestern State will likely come in to the game motivated and believing. There’s also the possibility that La Tech will avoid getting too fancy with Mississippi State coming to town next week. However, NSU just doesn’t have the talent to compete with La Tech. Last time, the NSU game was week four and #5 Auburn was next up. Easy trap game. This time, NSU is week one, which means the players for Tech will be excited and motivated to play anyone. Tech will keep it vanilla, but they will handle their business.
La Tech 49, NSU 10