A Late September Homecoming.
Kenneth Dixon finds tough going for Louisiana Tech.
(Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE)
War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for another Auburn opponent preview. This year, week 5 is homecoming week, and the Tigers will take on Louisiana Tech on September 27th. It’s the last chance for the Tigers to tune up against an overmatched opponent at home, before a brutal October and November. This is likely to be a game relegated to a lesser cable network, or pay-per-view.
At the conclusion of 2012, few teams in the country wanted to play Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs finished the season at 9-3, but incredibly were snubbed by the bowls. Head coach Spike Dykes and his offensive coordinator Tony Franklin presided over an explosive team that scored 618 points in 12 games, an astounding 51.5 points per game! This offense scored 40 or more points in 11 of 12 games. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Dykes was hired away by Cal at the end of 2013. Louisiana Tech called upon veteran coach Skip Holtz to take over, and the mighty Tech offense plunged off the cliff, averaging only 19.1 points per game last season, en route to a 4-8 campaign.
As the Bulldogs look to pick up the pieces this season, they’ll open the season in Norman, Oklahoma against the Sooners. Road games to Louisiana-Lafayette and North Texas follow. The Bulldogs tune up at home against Northwestern State before traveling to Auburn. It’s likely that the Bulldogs will enter the Auburn game at 1-3. Can they recover after a beating from the Tigers and make a bowl game? They’ll have to win 5 of their last seven to even be bowl-eligible. Auburn will have played Arkansas, San Jose State, and at Kansas State, prior to this contest.
Last season, coach Holtz brought in Tony Peterson to install a fast paced, pass-heavy offense. It turned out to be neither fast paced, nor much good completing passes. A rebuilt offensive line and green quarterbacks, coupled with a complex playbook spelled doom. Quarterbacks Scotty Young and Ryan Higgins have a year of splitting playing time now under their belts, but Tech loses 5 of their top 8 receivers from last season. Couple that with another rebuilt offensive line that only has 24 career starts, and it looks like another year of trouble for the Bulldogs moving the ball.
On paper, Louisiana Tech improved on defense last season, giving up 26.2 points per game, down from 38.5 in Dykes’ last year. However, a lot of this “improvement” was due to teams running the ball, and the clock out on a Bulldog team with little chance to score late. Three defensive coaches moved on to other jobs at the end of last season, and Holtz has brought in veteran coordinator Manny Diaz to rebuild the defense. It’s hard to draw many conclusions after watching the Tech spring game, as blitzing wasn’t allowed, and that is a staple of a Diaz defense. Tech should be at least solid in the back seven, but they lost a lot of beef off the defensive line, including 2 of their top 3 tackles.
Louisiana Tech was very respectable on special teams last season, and should improve a bit this season. Both kicker Kyle Fisher and punter Logan McPherson return, as well as decent coverage teams. McPherson wasn’t much of a distance punter, but much like Steven Clark has been for Auburn the past few years, he hits high, well-placed balls that don’t get returned much.
Unit matchups, after the jump!
Auburn defensive line vs. Louisiana Tech offensive line: Auburn’s final starting lineup on Labor Day weekend is a bit up in the air, at this point. I’d expect senior Gabe Wright to start somewhere, either at tackle or end. Expect tackles Angelo Blackson, Jeffery Whitaker, Montravius Adams, and Ben Bradley to all play prominent roles. LaDarius Owens will likely anchor the run-stopping end spot, with Carl Lawson taking on the rush-end spot. Expect a heavy dose of Elijah Daniel off the bench, as well as any other young linemen from a deep unit that are healthy and have proved themselves in fall camp. Louisiana Tech only returns two starters here, and the replacements are pretty green. Right tackle Mitchell Bell and left guard Tre Carter, both seniors are expected to anchor the Tech line. Left tackle will be sophomore Darrell Brown, right guard will likely be senior Richard Greenwalt, and the center will likely be sophomore Joseph Brunson. The Bulldogs desperately hope JUCO transfers Kirby Wilson and Blake Sharp come in ready to play, and can give the line a boost. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn linebackers vs. Louisiana Tech backs: Auburn’s starting linebackers coming out of spring drills are juniors Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy. Both are veteran, athletic SEC players, looking to make the next move up. Running back was the strength of the Bulldog offense last season, but injuries have been an issue this past spring. Sophomore Tevin King missed spring drills due to injury, but he’s an explosive threat in the mold of Onterio McCalebb. Juniors Kenneth Dixon and Blake Martin join King in this year’s backfield. All three guys averaged 4.9 or more yards per carry last season. Still, this was more like a single 25-30 yard run, sandwiched by 4 or 5 carries for very little. It was not exactly drive-sustaining play. It’s very difficult to sustain drives running the ball from a 4 wide receiver look. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn corners vs. Louisiana Tech receivers: Auburn is again fairly deep at corner, with veteran Jonathan Mincy locking down one spot, and either junior Joshua Holsey or junior Jonathan Jones at the other spot. Senior converted wide receiver Trovon Reed also looked pretty good in spring drills here. Auburn should be able to run with any receiving corps, and play physical run defense on the edges. Louisiana Tech loses 131 catches off last year’s roster, and this squad averaged only 9.7 yards per catch, and just 5.5 yards per pass. That’s a lot of dinking and dunking. Projected receivers outside this fall are junior Sterling Griffin and senior Eddie Johnson, Griffin was second on the team with 33 catches last year, and Johnson makes for a big 6′ 3” target. The Bulldogs hope JUCO transfer Sanford Seay can make an immediate impact. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn safeties vs. Louisiana Tech secondary receivers and quarterback: Senior Jermaine Whitehead anchors one spot here, and Auburn will feature either junior Joshua Holsey, or JUCO transfer Derrick Moncrief at the other position. Moncrief was a beast in spring drills, this year, and Holsey is a veteran. The Bulldogs will likely put senior Hunter Lee and LSU transfer Paul Turner inside. Lee had 16 receptions in 2013. Look for sophomore Trent Taylor to play a lot also, having snagged 28 balls as a freshman last season. This is a tough matchup for Auburn, as they’ll be facing fast players here, and having to cover man to man a good bit. At quarterback, Ryan Higgins gets the nod over Scotty Young after spring drills, but I’d expect to see both. Higgins is a good scrambler and has more upside, but Young is capable throwing the ball. Advantage: Even.
Punting: Auburn must start a new punter, here, going with redshirt freshman Jimmy Hutchenson, who had a really solid A-Day game. Louisiana Tech sophomore Logan McPherson only averaged 38 yards per punt last season as a freshman, but he killed 21 of 63 punts inside the 20, and had 17 more fair caught. On coverage, Auburn was stifling last season, allowing only 5 returns all season, for 35 yards. Louisiana Tech was even better, giving up just 44 yards on 14 returns. Auburn searches for a new return man this season, while Louisiana Tech hopes to give sophomore Tevin King a crack next season. Advantage: Louisiana Tech.
Kickoffs: Junior Kyle Fischer will reprise his kickoff duties this year for the Bulldogs. Fischer hit 11 of 41 kickoffs for touchbacks last season. Redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson will take over for Cody Parkey, for Auburn. Carlson showed a massive leg this past April, in spring drills. Tech covered kickoffs pretty well last year, giving up just 19.7 yards per return. Auburn was downright suspect when it wasn’t a touchback, giving up 25.8. Tevin King is the most experienced kick returner, taking 5 returns for 144 yards last season, a 28.8 yard average. Auburn senior Corey Grant ripped off 5 returns for a 32.0 yard average for Auburn as the top guy coming back. Advantage: Louisiana Tech.
Place kicking: Auburn redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson is the man for Auburn. He hit a monster 51 yard field goal this year in the Auburn A-Day game, but also missed an extra point. Junior Kyle Fischer was very consistent last season, hitting 18 of 23 field goal attempts. Advantage: Louisiana Tech.
Auburn offensive line vs. Louisiana Tech defensive line: Auburn returns 4 starters on a road-grading, violent offensive line. Greg Robinson moves on to the NFL, but Auburn has talent to replace him. From left to right, it’s sophomore Shon Coleman, sophomore Alex Kozan, senior all-SEC Reese Dismukes, senior Chad Slade, and sophomore Avery Young, with junior Patrick Miller still in the hunt to perhaps unseat one of the tackles for a starting job. Louisiana Tech lost a pair of decent tackles, and their star end Ik Enemkpali to graduation. This year’s tackles look to be senior Devon McKinney and junior Vernon Butler, and the ends will be senior Andre Taylor and junior Vontarrius Dora. Butler has the most experience, posting 43 tackles last season, including 4.5 for a loss. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn backs vs. Louisiana Tech linebackers: Although Auburn lost Heisman finalist Tre Mason early to the NFL draft, Auburn should be fine here with seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant. Grant was this year’s A-Day star, looking even more explosive and unstoppable. Add in a corps of talented newcomers, and it’s no secret Auburn will be able to tote the rock again this season. H-back is a bit thinner. Senior blocking specialist Brandon Fulse moves from end/receiver to take over the starting nod, but depth behind him is questionable. Team leading tackler Daniel Cobb leaves the Bulldog squad this year, leaving a void. The starting lineup at this point will be junior Mitch Villemez, and seniors Tony Johnson and Terrell Pinson. Villemez had 69 tackles a year ago. Look for this unit to up its production this season against the run, with a more aggressive blitzing philosophy brought in by Manny Diaz. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn receivers vs. Louisiana Tech corners: Auburn juniors Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis developed into one of the more dangerous receiving duos in the SEC, last season. Add in monster transfer D’haquille Williams, and this unit became downright scary this spring, with lots of depth behind the big three. Louisiana Tech has veteran players here, with senior Le’Vander Liggins and junior Adairius Barnes. The pair combined for 22 passes defended last season, and they will get help from junior Bryson Abraham, who picked off 3 passes off the bench. Louisiana Tech did make some plays on the ball last season, but there were also some big busts. Advantage: Auburn.
Auburn secondary receivers and quarterback vs. Louisiana Tech safeties: Auburn senior tight end C. J. Uzomah is a nightmare for safeties to cover. When Auburn needed to go to him late in games last season, C. J. was there every time to haul in the score. Auburn also has senior Quan Bray in the equation, who’s been the career quick screen guy. When guys start to clamp down on him, he can get open down the field. Louisiana Tech has 4 capable safeties back, including senior Thomas McDonald, sophomore Xavier Woods, senior Lloyd Grogan and junior Kentrell Brice. Louisiana Tech will have to deal with Auburn senior quarterback Nick Marshall, and he’s easily the most dangerous guy returning at the position in the SEC this fall. With a spring spent working on a shaky passing game, the sky’s the limit this fall. Marshall was devastating running the zone-read option last fall. Advantage: Auburn.
I think Louisiana Tech will have a 2014 season fairly similar to 2013. They’ll be in good shape going into next year, but I think there are still too many questions for this year’s bunch to hope for a bowl game. Holtz and Diaz are capable coaches, but they have spent the last two seasons trying to fill spots on the line of scrimmage, and that’s really where games are won and lost. I also think it was very difficult to go from Tony Franklin’s fairly straightforward offensive system to a more complex one on offense, with green quarterbacks.
After the tuneup against the Bulldogs, things get very tough for Auburn. The Tigers host LSU, then travel to Mississippi State, then have a week off. Then in comes South Carolina, the likely East favorite. The Tigers then go on the road to Ole Miss, and return home against Texas A&M. November concludes at Georgia, then Samford at home, then at Tuscaloosa. It’s a difficult ten weeks, with one open date and the pre-Iron Bowl Samford tuneup.
Prediction: Auburn goes for early shock and awe in this one, and is deeply into the bench before halftime. The Tigers cruise in this one, 52-13.