By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Bulldogs entered the 2009 season with promise and optimism under head coach Derek Dooley, but the squad was not prepared to deal with the countless setbacks that kept them from flourishing. In fact, of all
the schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision, LaTech was crippled with the
most injuries and was never able to recover.
The Bulldogs kicked off the campaign with a pair of road dates against Auburn
and Navy and, unfortunately, failed to score more than two touchdowns in
either of those meetings while the defense permitted the opposition far too
much room to operate. Against Nicholls State in the home opener, the Bulldogs
finally hit their marks and came up with a 48-13 win, but seeing as how
Nicholls ended with just three wins in 11 opportunities at the FCS level, the
excitement was tempered somewhat. LaTech did manage a 27-6 win against Hawaii
in the Western Athletic Conference opener at the end of the September, but
that too was a bit misleading seeing as how the Bulldog defense knocked out UH
starting quarterback Greg Alexander, forcing the signal-caller to miss the
remainder of the season with a left knee injury. The two-game win streak came
to an abrupt end soon after when the Bulldogs were throttled by Nevada (37-14)
on the road. LaTech demolished an overmatched New Mexico State program in the
middle of October, 45-7, but what followed was a five-game slide as the team
played four games on the road and had to tangle with mighty Boise State at
home. On a positive note, the Bulldogs did close out the season with a 55-20
win over San Jose State, but still a record of just 4-8 and 3-5 in conference
play was nothing to be excited about.
But the worst was yet to come as coach Dooley involved himself in the coaching
carousel that is college football and announced his resignation in the middle
of January, on his way to taking over the head job at Tennessee. As a result
of that move, school president Dan Reneau went outside the LaTech family to
find the next head coach in Sonny Dykes, bringing him in from Arizona less
than a week later.
OFFENSE: While he may have the most on-field experience at the position, Ross
Jenkins shouldn't feel all too comfortable in the role since Steven Ensminger
will also be gunning for the spot. Jenkins appeared n all 12 games for the
Bulldogs a year ago, completing better than 59 percent of his passes for 2,095
yards and 17 touchdowns. More importantly, Jenkins tossed just five
interceptions which meant the offense was on the field much more of the time
and provided more of a threat to the competition.
R.P. Stuart, Ahmad Paige and Jacarri Jackson all appear as starters at
receiver in early forms of the depth chart, but coach Dykes isn't limiting
himself to assigning those guys as permanent starters.
"You go into our receiver positions and we've probably got six or eight guys
that I feel like can contribute, but most of them are unproven."
Finding a replacement for Daniel Porter at running back will not be an easy
task, but for now Lyle Fitte will be giving it his best shot. Fitte averaged
almost 11 yards per carry in 2009, yet he toted the ball just nine times over
"Phillip (Livas) had a little turf toe last fall and we didn't do much with
him this spring," coach Dykes says of one of the most exciting players in the
conference. "He is a fun guy to watch, he's one of those players that you try
to figure out ways to get his hands on the football and let him make plays. He
has the uncanny ability to turn a three or four-yard pass into a 40 or 50-yard
touchdown, so you've got to be creative in ways to get him the ball."
Livas, who was named First Team All-WAC a year ago as a kick returner, is the
one returning player in all of the Football Bowl Subdivision who has scored a
touchdown four different ways (reception, punt return, kickoff return and run)
in which all have measured at least 50 yards in length, so getting him the
ball has to be a top priority.
DEFENSE: "I really feel like on defense, our back end, our back seven, is
going to be the strength of our group," coach Dykes claims. "Josh Victorian is
a corner back that probably had the best spring of anybody on our football
team...He's got great feet, good ball skills and is learning to be more
Victorian is one of two seniors expected to be starting in the secondary this
season, along with Tank Calais. Victorian saw action in just nine games last
season, making 25 of his 31 stops unassisted, while also placing second on the
team with three interceptions. Calais was second on the team last season with
his 77 stops, accounting for 3.5 tackles for loss and a couple of
interceptions himself. On early versions of the depth chart Calais, who set a
school record with a 96-yard INT return for a touchdown versus San Jose State,
was listed as both a linebacker and a strong safety, so clearly his presence
on the field will be needed on almost every snap.
As one of two juniors along the defensive line for the Bulldogs, Matt Broha
could be the most significant figure in the trenches after having a strong
2009 campaign. Broha came up with 36 total tackles a year ago, five of which
came behind the line of scrimmage. Broha logged four sacks as well, the most
of any LaTech defender.
The team as a whole actually ranked second in the WAC in sacks with 1.83 per
contest, but overall tackles behind the line were another story all together.
The squad ranked seventh in the league and a disappointing 111th in the
country with only 4.33 TFLs per game, certainly an area that coach Dykes and
his staff have to address early on in the season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: There's no secret that Livas is the team's most valuable weapon
on special teams, at least that's when the Bulldogs choose to use him this
season. Livas averaged 13.4 yards per punt return and 27 yards per kickoff
return, scoring once each way a year ago, but coach Dykes might want to give
Livas some more action on offense and that could take the multitalented star
off special teams from time to time. Should that be the case, expect Fitte to
slide in as a returner in both areas. As far as kicking the ball away is
concerned, Cade Glasgow is listed as a returning starter, yet the staff might
be learning towards giving Stuart Scurria or even Jared Hylander an
opportunity to unseat a guy who averaged 37.3 yards per punt a year ago. Now a
sophomore, Matt Nelson will be there to again handle the placekicking duties
if all goes according to plan.
OUTLOOK: Beginning anew under new coaches is tough enough for any team, but
having to do so after such a disappointing season is going to make it that
much harder on the Bulldogs. The non-conference schedule for Louisiana Tech is
by no means easy this time around, although the program should start off 2010
on the right foot when it takes on Grambling in Shreveport. A trip to Texas
A&M doesn't sound too promising the next week, nor do home dates versus the
likes of Navy and Southern Miss to close out September.
Kicking off the Western Athletic Conference schedule, the Bulldogs hit the
friendly skies for the long trip to Honolulu to challenge Hawaii, and it
doesn't help that the club has to go to Boise to challenge the Broncos later
in October either. However, even though meetings with both New Mexico State
and San Jose State are on the road, those are two dates that can definitely
find their way into the win column for the Bulldogs.
With a solid collection of offensive starters coming back for LaTech it is
conceivable that the team could reach .500 this year, but that's still a