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2020 Week 15 Preview: Louisiana Tech Bulldogs @ TCU Horned Frogs

The Bulldogs’ regular season finishes with an impromptu non-conference game at TCU.

NCAA Football: Louisiana Tech at BYU USA TODAY NETWORK

Two teams determined to add a non-conference game to the schedule will meet in an unlikely, impromptu matchup in Fort Worth.

Louisiana Tech (5-3, 4-2 C-USA) was originally slated to play Baylor on Sept. 12. Meanwhile, TCU (5-4, 5-4 Big 12) was supposed to play its Iron Skillet rival SMU one day prior, on Sept. 11, but COVID-19 issues canceled both games.

The programs aligned their desires for an additional game, and now Louisiana Tech gets a shot at a Big 12 program while TCU hosts a non-conference game in a ceremonial sendoff for the seniors. With the increasing uncertainty surrounding bowl season following the cancelation of 10 postseason matchups, this could very well be the final game of 2020 for both programs alike.

Thus, Saturday’s game may come with a bowl-like atmosphere, where both teams have exhibited success in the College Football Playoff era with long-tenured coaches. Guided by Gary Patterson, TCU is 4-1 in postseason games since 2014, while Skip Holtz’s Louisiana Tech is an FBS-best 6-0 in that timespan. Expect a high-energy game between two coaches that often save their best for the end of the season.


Game Notes

Time and Date: Saturday, December 12 at 7:00 p.m. ET

Network: FS1

Location: Amon G. Carter Stadium — Fort Worth, TX

Spread: TCU (-21.5)

ESPN FPI: TCU has 92.2% chance to win

All-time series: TCU leads, 1-0

Last meeting: TCU 31, Louisiana Tech 24 — December 21, 2011

TCU’s final game as a Mountain West opponent was the 2011 Poinsettia Bowl against Louisiana Tech. The underdog Bulldogs, led by Colby Cameron, clung onto a 24-17 lead entering the fourth quarter in San Diego, but TCU notched two touchdowns in the final eight minutes — including a 42-yard touchdown pass from Casey Pachall to Skye Dawson — to close 2011 with a clutch victory.


Team outlooks

Louisiana Tech put up another solid season in the Skip Holtz era. While Holtz has yet to deliver a conference title to Ruston, he’s established a consistent winner which is on pace for its seventh straight season above .500. However, the Bulldogs are eliminated from the C-USA title game, as they have no conference games remaining and trail UTSA — whose regular season is finished — in the standings.

The Bulldogs didn’t play one in the month of November and faced four consecutive cancelations/postponements due to COVID-19 issues. C-USA teams have struggled to take the field this season, but Louisiana Tech finally returned to action in Denton last Thursday and defeated North Texas, 42-31.

After a rare losing season under Gary Patterson in 2019, TCU completed its Big 12 slate above .500 and finished a scorching 4-1 in its last five games. The Horned Frogs upset Oklahoma State last weekend after trailing 13-0 in the early going. They notched their second ranked win of the season and carry the momentum into a non-conference matchup with the Bulldogs.


When Louisiana Tech has the ball

Louisiana Tech runs a 2-quarterback system, splitting time between the talents of senior Luke Anthony and sophomore Aaron Allen. Anthony, a grad transfer from the FCS level, has started in every game this season and leads the team with 15 touchdown passes compared to 5 interceptions. The younger Allen has shown promise with a 67.4 completion percentage, and he also captained a 14-point comeback to beat UAB in double overtime this season — which stands as the Bulldogs’ most impressive 2020 victory to date.

Neither quarterback exhibits dual-threat tendencies, as both have more sack yards taken than rushing yards attained this season. However, Anthony and Allen are both very accurate passers and thrive on short corner, hitch, and crossing routes to keep Louisiana Tech’s offense moving downfield.

Louisiana Tech’s offense is more methodical than explosive. The Bulldogs rank 18th-to-last in the FBS in yards per play, and all six of their scoring drives against North Texas consumed seven or more plays.

The Bulldogs’ offense is working in new skill position players due to an exodus of player opt-outs. Starting running back Justin Henderson and No. 1 wide receiver Adrian Hardy were among players who concluded their individual seasons, so Louisiana Tech must look further down the depth chart.

Running back Israel Tucker exuded stardom last week, rushing for 161 yards and two touchdowns on the Mean Green defense. Running the ball was a struggle for the Bulldogs for most of 2020, and they rank in the nation’s bottom 10 in that category. But Tucker is aiming to amend that element of the team’s offense, pitted against a physical TCU run defense.

In the receiving game, the quick-footed 5’6” receiver Smoke Harris will be the quarterbacks’ featured target. Harris works well on bubble screens and streak patterns, but Louisiana Tech needs more support in the middle of the route tree. That support may come from former TCU transfer Isaiah Graham, a senior who will return to his former stomping grounds. Graham stepped up last week to rank second on the team in receptions and receiving yards during Louisiana Tech’s first game in over a month.

Harris, Graham, and the Louisiana Tech receiving corps will battle a TCU defense that ranks 14th in opponent completion percentage. Strong safety La’Kendrick Van Zandt is a name to watch in that area after contributing 37 tackles, two interceptions, and four pass breakups in Big 12 play.


When TCU has the ball

The key scheme to watch on TCU’s possessions is its zone read. Gary Patterson has done a great job adapting the offense to the talents of his quarterback, and he often utilizes Max Duggan as a read option specialist, reminiscent of former Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch.

Duggan rushed for 104 yards and two touchdowns against Oklahoma State last week, and the Horned Frogs improved to 4-1 when Duggan records a rushing touchdown. Outside of Duggan’s near-perfect half in the season opener against Iowa State, accuracy has been an issue in the passing game for TCU as of late. Each of Duggan’s last four games have featured a completion percentage of under 56, but the Horned Frogs are 3-1 over the stretch, as they’re more reliant on the run.

Outside of Duggan, who leads the team with 513 rushing yards and nine rushing scores this year, freshmen running backs Darwin Barlow and Zach Evans assist in the ground game. Both young tailbacks average over six yards per carry and hold promising futures ahead. Evans gets worked into the mix more every week, and he’s received 10 or more handoffs in three of his last four games.

Louisiana Tech’s defense must key on the run, with a specific emphasis of stopping Duggan in the read option. Defensive end Milton Williams is the perfect counter, serving as a backfield menace for the Bulldogs with team-highs in sacks (4.5) and tackles for loss (10). Williams is a native of Crowley, TX, and will be aiming to limit the run 20 minutes outside of his hometown.

If the running game is stalled, TCU is building several viable deep threats in the receiving game. Last week, Oklahoma State-TCU viewers were subject to a breakout performance from junior receiver Derius Davis. At 5’9”, 168 pounds, Davis is essentially a jetpack moving downfield and Louisiana Tech will have to be wary of his speed. In contrast, Quentin Johnson is a 6’4”, 193 pound receiver capable of making leaping grabs, and he managed 114 yards on three receptions in the upset win last Saturday.


Prediction

TCU really doesn’t blow opponents out with its clock-eating, ground-heavy offense, but the Horned Frogs present a stingy defense which could be an issue for Louisiana Tech. In each of its last five outings, TCU has held its opponents under 24 points, faring 4-1 in such games.

Louisiana Tech’s offense will be forced to make explosive plays if it wants to upset TCU on the road. Additionally, the defense will have to limit Duggan from conquering the run game in order to keep it low-scoring. By creating turnovers (TCU ranks 24th in the FBS in fumbles lost) and maintaining an advantage in the passing game, Louisiana Tech can establish a recipe for an upset at The Carter this Saturday night.

However, TCU is on a roll and the Horned Frogs’ defense will sustain its second half success from the Oklahoma State game and control the result on Senior Night.

Prediction: TCU 27, Louisiana Tech 16