View from the Radio Booth: Teddy Allen-Style

Oct. 2, 2017

RUSTON -- Louisiana Tech started hot and ended hot and were sort of lukewarm in between, but when Saturday night at the Joe was over, the Bulldogs had lapped the South Alabama Jaguars, 34-16, a score you would likely misinterpret if you happened to see it cold.

Tech trailed 7-0 early, then led 17-7, then 17-13 at the half, and only 17-16 two minutes into the fourth quarter. The 17 fourth-quarter points makes it look as if the win were easy.

Not so. The ’Dogs had bad field position in the second and third quarters, twice because of lousy kick returns, twice because of questionable fair-catch decisions, and once because of a good thing: running up and at an angle toward the sideline from his safety position, senior Secdrick Cooper of Archbishop Shaw in Marrero intercepted a pass headed toward the goal line pylon, caught it at full speed, and his momentum took him out inside the 2.

Also sophomore quarterback J’Mar Smith started the game 12-of-18 for 156 yards and two touchdowns, then went through a stretch of 6-of 14 for 63 yards. Although he overthrew a couple of receivers, never did he throw a ball that anyone except a Bulldog could make a play on. Good sign. Plus, he finished the night with single-game career highs in completions (24), yards (317) and touchdowns (3).

It was not the most fun game to watch, despite the comfortable night and the inspired singing of the Loyal Blue (National) Anthem by the blue-clad student body moments before the coin toss. Although Tech’s offense was a bit jerky-jerky, when it clicked, it was sweet to see just how effective and electric this offense can be.

None of Smith’s TD passes were routine catches. Jarred Craft caught his falling backward, Adrian Hardy had to sort of spin in midair for his first TD as a Bulldog, and Teddy Veal had a catch and run down the sideline that started with a spin and a quick burst to get him free. One of the fun things about Veal is that he’s at full speed after two steps.

 

 

Oh, and Tech’s defense, which pitched a shutout for three quarters last week in Columbia against the Gamecocks, gave up only 333 yards in total offense, just 98 on the ground, and collected two interceptions, one when the Jaguar’s quarterback didn’t seen Cooper in the end zone and the other when cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, the sophomore corner from Minden who led Tech in tackles Saturday with 8, was riding the quarterback’s back when he threw. It’s easy to forget Tech has only three senior starters on defense. Might be baby steps, but they’re trending in the right direction.

Maybe the most fun play of the night was Boston Scott’s burst into the south end zone that for-sure iced it. Tech had taken over on downs at the Jaguar 27 with a 27-16 lead and only 3:24 left. To burn clock and run the ball, Tech had seven men on the line of scrimmage -- Bobby Holly was actually standing in a slot off left tackle Michael Rodriguez’s left hip, and Tech’s blocking tight end, Alex Woodall, was the right-side bookend. Smith in the pistol, Scott the lone back to his right, and two just-for-show wideouts. The call was a zone run; Scott most likely goes over left guard. South Alabama jumped into a run-stop defense with five guys on the line of scrimmage and four right behind them.

When a play is blocked correctly, it’s like watching a cross between high-speed wrestling and ballet. It’s art in cleats. The ball was snapped. Holly, Rodriguez, Kody Russey, center Ethan Reed, Hanner Shipley, Gewhite Stallworth, and Woodall fired off.

Reed, the sophomore in his fifth start at center and 19th career start, made a zone block call that basically told everyone on the backside to come join him. And that’s what they did. What Scott did was take the handoff, see a hole you could drive the Tech Trolley through right in front of him, and run to the right side of center -- jet is a better word -- and split the safeties for a touchdown untouched.

As Scott collected the ball from Smith, Holly, Rodriguez and Russey blocked away from Reed, toward Tech Drive. Reed pushed the nose tackle up and toward Rodriguez and Russey. Shipley got the linebacker and was still blocking him eight yards downfield when Scott was already at the 10. Woodall had turned the defensive end out, toward the press box, and Stallworth had blocked the defensive tackle all the way over to where Reed had hiked the ball. Hercules Transport could have driven the Bulldogs equipment truck through where the diminutive Scott scampered. Eight Boston Scotts could have locked arms and run through there in a dance line.

It was a wide hole.

And when it broke, offensive line coach Robert McFarland sprang up from his chair in the Tech coaches booth, pumped a fist in the air and looked down the field like you look at your children when they tie their shoes for the first time or hand you an “A-plus” report card.

“Just so proud of them, the way they came off the ball and washed it all down,” he said a couple of hours later. “(South Alabama) jumped into a front where we really had to move, had to cover some more ground, and our guys just zone-blocked the heck out of it. They were able to widen it so much because we pushed it all toward them and set them sideways. Then Boston makes a good cut and splits the safeties with his speed. It was beautiful.”

It hasn’t been easy down there. Last week, the offensive line faced the best front seven they’ll face all season at South Carolina. They played hard but “weren’t as sharp as we should have been on some little things, especially in certain moments,” McFarland said. “Do the little things. Don’t make it harder than it is.”

Junior college transfer Drew Kirkpatrick was expected to step in at center, but a fall camp injury necessitated moving Reed, a Freshman All-America guard last year, to center. That’s thrown Russey, a redshirt freshman, into the fire. Shipley, a redshirt junior and transfer, has split time with Russey and Shane Carpenter, a junior and two-year letterman from Walker, and O’Shea Dugas, a Freshman All-America two years ago. Rodriguez, Stallworth, and Joshua Outlaw, who has played most downs at left tackle since early last season, have been the tackles.

But Outlaw limped off late in Saturday’s game. Dugas was injured two weeks ago, played probably three quarters at South Carolina, but missed the past week of practice and Saturday’s game because of his mother’s sudden and most-unexpected health issue.

But sometimes it takes just a play or two to get a unit thinking on a grander scale, and playing on a grander scale. That 27-yard touchdown play came at a good time, right before Tech begins a stretch of seven straight C-USA games. That begins Saturday afternoon at 3 at Legion Field when Tech, 3-2 and 1-0 in the conference after its 23-22 road win at Western Kentucky last month, plays UAB.

How confident Tech can be, even as an early 12-point favorite, even against a team that had its program ripped out from under its cleats two years ago, is suspect. Rhashid Bonnette, a proven deep threat at receiver, had his arm in a sling during the second half. Hardy had an ice pack on his hamstring. Outlaw limped off. Defensive end Deldrick Canty didn’t play. Running back Jaqwis Dancy and Alfred Smith have each missed three games, including Saturday’s.

These Bulldogs will do a thing or two that makes you scratch your head -- don’t get me started -- but then they’ll act older than their age, too. The Bulldogs have turned it over only once in each of the past two games and have been penalized only six times for 29 yards in their last two games. They’ve given up 22, 17, and 16 points in the past three games. They have shown flashes of what they can be. Now, at five games old and heading into a demanding C-USA run with a league road win under their belt and the schedule in their favor, they are in control.

Right before Scott’s exciting run Saturday, the Bulldogs knew the main thing they needed to block: the guy in front of them. At this point, for a team five games old, the road to a title is right there in that play. The only thing the Bulldogs need to block out Although Tech’s offense was a bit jerky-jerky -- it Although Tech’s offense was a bit jerky-jerky -- it is anything that comes between them and the next play.

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