Date: Saturday September 30, 2017
Kickoff Time: 6:00 PM CT
Location: Ruston, LA
Stadium: Joe Aillet Stadium
Series Record: First meeting
Betting Line: Louisiana Tech -14
Last week, both the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs and South Alabama Jaguars were left heartbroken after close losses. Tech led South Carolina 13-0 after three quarters, but the Gamecocks pulled out a late rally to defeat the Dawgs 17-16. USA, meanwhile, played Idaho for almost seven hours. There were two separate weather delays and the game went into double overtime, just for USA to fall to Idaho 29-23 in their Sun Belt opener.
Both teams now look to regroup as they prepare to finish their respective non-conference schedules against each other in Ruston. This will be the first ever meeting between the two schools.
Louisiana Tech Overview
As tough as this loss was for Tech, this may have been the best game Tech has played in terms of the eyeball test. The offense finally looked in sync after a rough start to the season. Yes, they only scored 16 points and only had one touchdown, but make no mistake: that was the best defense Tech will face all year. Don’t forget that the normally reliable and absolutely-not-a-college-kicker Jonathan Barnes had a rare miss, and J’Mar Smith was pressured into a red zone interception on third down. Clean up those two plays, and Tech could have scored 26 total points. This offense has improved each week, and if that trend continues they could become a menace to C-USA defenses down the stretch, albeit maybe not to the same degree they were last year. J’Mar Smith has looked completely different the last two weeks and is finally playing at the level we expected. Teddy Veal has quickly made himself the featured target, with 25 receptions for 243 yards and one touchdown. It’s Rhashid Bonnette, however, that leads the team with 279 yards and two touchdowns off of 11 catches. With other receivers behind them that are capable, this passing offense should only get better and better.
The defense has been greatly improved compared to last season, week 2 notwithstanding. South Carolina didn’t score a point until Tech turned the ball over in the fourth quarter, and the Tech defense forced two turnovers of their own. The offense has already made strides in protecting the ball, they just need to polish that up a little more (read: stop throwing picks). Turnovers and sudden change can be hard on a defense, so a little more help from the offense (which, like I said, has been improving week to week) and this defense could be sufficient to help Tech win against the rest of this schedule.
Other than that, the rushing attack needs to be just a little more productive. With two senior running backs in Jarred Craft and Boston Scott, there is little excuse to not be strong on the ground. That’s not to say they have been bad by any stretch of the imagination, but they could do a little more. That, in turn, takes pressure off a young quarterback and a young receiver corps, and could also help Tech close the deal in a close game with a late lead. Tech is currently averaging 143.8 rushing yards a game, which isn’t bad. Just need a little more and the Dawgs should be set.
South Alabama Overview
Tech likes to throw the ball. South likes to run it. The Jags ran the ball 87 times in their last two games as opposed to just 39 pass attempts.
That said, South Alabama just fired offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent, so there’s no telling what USA’s offensive game plan might be. There’s also the question of the quarterback. Cole Garvin was the original starter, playing the entire game against Ole Miss, then starting the Oklahoma State game before getting hurt on their opening drive. Dallas Davis took over and has been the man since, but he was injured late this past week. Garvin has been feeling better, but Davis could be healthy by game time again. USA will have to decide who is in better shape to play and who gives them the best chance to win. Before getting hurt, Cole Garvin completed 62.5% of his passes (20-32) for 212 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Dallas Davis has completed 55% of his passes this season (33-60), accounting for 487 yards and three touchdowns. Garvin didn’t throw any picks, while Davis has thrown two.
Xavier Johnson, meanwhile, has 45 carries for 256 yards and four touchdowns. Behind him is Tra Minter, with 41 rushes for 174 yards and no scores. USA will have to decide who they can rely on to lead the team, whether it’s a quarterback or a running back. It should be noted that in their first two games, although the Jags still ran the ball more then they threw it, the ratio was much closer. However, those were games where they trailed most of the time and had to throw out of necessity. It’s also possible that USA chose to rely more on the run game after Garvin’s injury.
Whatever the game plan and whoever the quarterback, USA must get better on third down. So far this season, the Jags are 9-45 offensively on third down. That just isn’t going to cut it. Whether they have to do better on first and second down or just get some ice in their veins, they must learn how to convert or they won’t win many games.
Another trouble spot is penalties. They did fine against their power 5 foes, but in their last two games they had 21 penalties for 192 yards, with over 100 of those yards coming last week.
On the bright side, USA is only surrendering an average of 120.8 rushing yards per game. Not elite, but that’s not a bad number. They outrushed Idaho last week 244 to 146. They also outrushed Ole Miss 170-102. They will need to continue to win the ground war. If they can do that, then even marginal improvement to the secondary could go a long way.
Both teams come into this game looking for redemption after heartbreaking losses. South Alabama’s offense is a bit of a mystery since they will be under new management this week. The question is, what kind of impact will the firing of their OC have? On the one hand, it makes it harder for Tech’s defense to prepare since they only have film on the offense as it was run before. On the other hand, do they have time to make drastic changes in one week? And if they do try that, how good will they be at it? Chances are, the offense won’t change drastically, but they’ll throw in a few wrinkles that Tech won’t be expecting.
South Alabama will probably outrush La Tech, but USA’s passing offense thus far has been nothing to write home about. After a slow start, Tech has found a rhythm through the air and should easily outperform USA in that area. USA’s defense gives up an average of 286 passing yards per game, and Tech racks up an average of 256.5 yards of passing offense per game, 293.5 if you only look at the last two games. J’Mar Smith will likely exceed 300 yards passing.
Lastly, keep in mind that South Alabama’s last game lasted almost seven hours. That’s two weather delays and double overtime. That kind of game can leave you a little tired the next week, and on top of that they have to go on the road. The Jags very well could wear down in the fourth quarter.
South Alabama’s offense may trip up Tech a little early on and keep it close in the first half, but in the end the Jags just won’t be able to keep up with the Dawgs.
Louisiana Tech 38, South Alabama 21