View from the Radio Booth: Teddy Allen-style
Sept. 10, 2017
by Teddy Allen
RUSTON -- Like The Runaway Fumble for which this game will be mostly remembered, the bad bounces for Louisiana Tech just wouldn't stop in a 57-21 loss to Mississippi State.
The 28,100 in Joe Aillet Stadium were part of the second-largest crowd ever and the biggest in 20 years, a good-looking bunch on a Loyal Blue-Out in The Joe, all decked out in it's Saturday-night best: new press box and suites, LED lighting, bathroom re-do, spic-and-span. And the weather, while Hurricane Irma approached Florida? Mid-70s. Clear skies. Chamber of Commerce stuff.
Never underestimate the difference a great fan base can make in a home college football game. In its hard-copy edition to be released next week, ESPN The Magazine ranks Tech No. 1 in the nation in Points Above Expectation -- how many points above what would be considered "normal" that a team should score in a home game. "In its 54 home games against FBS opponents since 2005," the story reads, "Louisiana Tech has performed 3.6 points per game better than expected -- making the Bulldogs the biggest overachievers at home in the nation.
So despite State being a 6-10-points favorite, at kickoff, things were looking good for the home dogs and home Dogs. If Ernie Banks had been a free safety, this is one of those nights he'd have walked out for the coin toss and said, with a smile wide as a yard-line stripe, "Let's play two!"
And the outlook remained that way until 6:46 remained in the first quarter when Tech scored to take a 9-0 lead and then ... State blocked the extra point.
OK. It happens. The ship was righted when, after State had rattled off a 59-yard run, the visiting Bulldogs had to settle for a field goal. 9-3, Tech still leads.
Then it started. Jarred Craft couldn't quite get the corner on a sweep -- State was fast and tackled well all night -- and now it's 3rd-and-2. And run up the gut and Tech needs to punt from inside its own 25.
Does anybody remember that old Barbara Streisand hit, "Send In The Clowns"? Well I wish she hadn't said that because this is where they finally showed up. And once they did, they refused to leave.
Circus time at The Joe.
It was the smallest thing, really. Tech called time out because the punt team had only 10 players on the field. They should have run out about six more, and perhaps even then they could not have blocked Jeffrey Simmons, who blocked the punt and fell on it for a touchdown, his first of two on the night. The other was with 10 minutes left in the game when he scooped up a fumble by Tech QB J'Mar Smith and ran in back 90 yards.
When the opposing team's nose tackle scores two touchdowns against you, there's some three-rings-and-a-cloud-of-cotton-candy stuff going on, and the Football Gods are sitting over there shelling peanuts. It's just not your night.
So the field goal and the Simmons TD proved to be the first 13 points of a 36-0 State run. Tech broke the streak in the only way it could have on this weird night: true freshman Amik Robertson, who I guess I should have spent money to see play every Friday night last fall in Thibodaux, picked up a blocked extra-point and housed it down the east sideline for two points. Amik had two big third-down-stop solo tackles in the first quarter and a 61-yard interception and return. He's earned his scholarship and Tech hasn't played a road game yet. (Also, Jaylon Ferguson blocked that extra-point try and another one earlier. I'll wait while you tell me last time you saw three blocked extra-points in a game. I'll settle for in a season...)
That 36-point blitz is the killer, but how it came to be is the story. Now an interception and a touchdown for State. Now a fumble when Tech's Smith gets blindsided; State QB Nick Fitzgerald, 1-of-6 passing for minus a yard at that point, throws a first-pitch strike for a 17-yard TD, and just like that it's two TDs off turnovers and another TD off a blocked punt. (I'm watching the NFL with one eye right now and Seattle QB Russell Wilson basically just dropped the ball trying to evade the rush. First-and-goal Green Bay. It happens.)
Tech's body language was understandably telling during the unfortunate onslaught.
(Green Bay just capitalized. Packers lead 7-3. Oh, those turnovers...) Jonathan Barnes hit a 45-yard field goal right before the half to make it 36-14, a manageable three-touchdown deficit, but State scored on its first possession of the second half. Then Tech is knocking on the door again and the Simmons Second Touchdown Play happens. (For a guy who weighs 300, Simmons has very good, and very large, wheels.)
Meanwhile, Fitzgerald, the preseason All-SEC quarterback, a 6-5, 230-pound boy -- that's bigger than anybody who played in the first two Super Bowls, just to show you how the game has changed -- mixed in a couple of nice scoring runs on his way to 124 yards on the ground.
And The Runaway Fumble Heard 'Round The Internet hadn't even happened yet. Tech is about to score yet again -- 2nd and goal from the 7 -- when a bad snap turned into an 87-yard loss as Bulldogs from both sides chased a greased pig of a ball, kicking it and grabbing at it, all the way to the other seven where Cee Jay Powell, a redshirt freshman Tech receiver, stopped the madness -- God love him for not giving up and for stopping a play that was about to run into Interstate 20 -- and fell on the ball. Now it's 3rd-and-goal, only from the OTHER 7. We should note here that Tech is 0-for-1 on the season in 3rd-and-93 conversion attempts. (It's not an easy play call: you're back up against your own goal; the defense figures you almost have to pass; YOU'RE 93 YARDS FROM A FIRST DOWN. All that adds up...)
And you thought Ringling Brothers had gone out of business.
So the Tech faithful -- Tech coach Skip Holtz thanked the students postgame for their efforts -- came in Loyal Blue and left just blue. But there is much hope on the horizon.
One, you can't say for sure that It Was Just One Of Those Games but it sure looked like Just One Of Those Games. Three blocked extra points. Nose guard scores twice. An 87-yard loss on one play. The return of a blocked extra point. Thirty-six straight points by the visiting team in your own stadium. Three quick scores to capitalize on three quick errors. It was the snowball that wouldn't stop rolling.
But on a night when Chris Boniol and Josh Scobee were both in attendance, Barnes became the program's all-time leading kick scorer. Punt and kick coverage has been good, and the punt team has been a pleasant surprise (except for that one you-know-what); the ball will have to get to Brady Farlow quicker and he'll have to get rid of it quicker though or ...
Michael Rodriguez got most of the snaps at right tackle and redshirt freshman Kody Russey got time at guard; last year's All-American Freshman guard Ethan Reed snapped better at center than he did in the first week (except for that one you-know-what). I don't worry about this group or the defensive line. (Robertson's interception was set up because Deldrick Canty's hat was in Fitzgerald's rib protector.) Plus, we love Tech's two-back sets.
It's hard the judge the secondary because of the first two games have been so herky jerky, plus the season is only two weeks old. That will become clearer after the game at Western Kentucky Saturday. I think. Maybe. It should. But then again, I was at Saturday night's game and don't feel like I know any more about either team than I did before kickoff. That's how strange it was.
Tech appeared shell shocked much of the second quarter but hey, it was a lot to digest. Something to consider might be this: Tech's program is at the level now where other teams are not going to overlook the Bulldogs. Winning will get you that sort of a reputation. Mississippi State is at home against LSU Saturday; that did not seem to be on State's mind at The Joe Saturday. It is was, it wasn't after Tech took a 9-0 lead. And that all changed because of the tiniest mistakes. Blink your eye in a game like this, and you're basically saying, "Send in the clowns." Unfortunately, they'll show up if you ask.
The final bit of good news for Tech fans is that, at least according to oddsmakers -- and they are a serious bunch who border on genius -- Tech won the game it was supposed to win and lost the game it figured, by odds, to lose. Now Conference-USA play begins, and everything gets a bit more for real and for keeps. Tech should have already put the State game to bed. And we will too, by turning out the lights with this:
Saturday's game ended the only way that game possibly could have; Elliott to Cousar. Didn't think you'd see that scoring line when you were dressing for the game, did you? But sure enough, Tech's Westin Elliott, the sophomore transfer, hit 3-of-6 passes, including the 9-yard TD toss to tight end Zach Cousar, a redshirt freshman from Oxford, Miss. Of course that was in the south end zone where Simmons had scored twice and Robertson once -- even though they play defense. The Runaway Fumble started in that vicinity but naturally ended near the north end zone, the other end of the stadium.
Which is the point: all night, the crazy wasn't particular: it was spread all over the field.
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