BOWL COVERAGE: Have Bulldogs Saved Their Best for Last?

Dec. 20, 2017

By Teddy Allen (teddy@latech.edu)

FRISCO, Texas — Louisiana Tech plays SMU tonight, finally, and if you’re a Louisiana Tech fan, you’ve got to hope the Bulldogs have saved their best for last. There’s no reason to think they haven’t.

But this is a game I wouldn’t bet, not even with your money There are more intangibles tonight than there are new buildings going up here in Frisco, and that’s saying something. The team that accepts those and turns them from intangibles into something they are determined to control, there’s your winner, winner chicken dinner.

Things like energy. Focus. Making the moment something to embrace and not shy away from. Oh, and tackling. Don’t forget that. Tackling’s always good.

But before we tinker with those, since we are near Dallas, where the late In-Several-Hall-of-Fames sportswriter Blackie Sherrod scattershot so many glorious columns to so many grateful North Texas readers for so many years, we will take his lead and Dot Dot Dot to daylight today…

Like Ruston, Frisco has plenty of depth at the tree position. Tree-wise, Frisco has a north Louisiana feel. But these trees seem confused, especially the ones egotistically showing off their early-winter colors at the resort where Louisiana Tech is staying for tonight’s inaugural DXL Bowl. Most of the small cypress are dropping needles that are burnt orange, and the everywhere-oaks are plum and boysenberry, as if the leaves of the cypress and oak were heralding the eve of a University of Texas vs. Virginia Tech game...The other elm and oak are green and yellow: Oregon spring game?...

Toyota Stadium is a dozen years old and, as a soccer stadium, has been retrofitted to handle football. It will be a cozy 20,500-seat atmosphere for a 7 p.m. kick. Since 2010, the stadium has been the site of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision title game; this year’s game will be Jan. 6. You’ll be watching for entertainment; the FCS higher-ups will be watching to see how torn up the field might get...

Tuesday the field was covered with a huge tarp. The grass is short and the field is fast. It’s only the second time Tech has played on grass all year; the first time was in Columbia, S.C. It was dry. Intangible Alert! (Not really: it’s a pro field with water pumps and whatnot and should be dry as your den floor)...

Tonight’s Bulldog Tailgate Show comes on at 5:30 on the LATech Sports Network. There are a veritable cornucopia of guests: senior linebacker Russell Farris, Conference USA Newcomer of the Year Teddy Veal, record-setting senior placekicker Jonathan Barnes, senior running back Jarred Craft, four-year letterwinner and leader of the secondary Secdrick Cooper, of course head coach Skip Holtz, and a surprise guest —- SMU new head coach Sonny Dykes, coach of the Bulldogs in 2010, 2011, and 2012; he coached the Bulldogs in a 24-17 loss to TCU in the San Diego County Poinsettia Bowl in 2011 when Tech won the Western Athletic Conference after a 1-4 start. This year he was offensive consultant for the coach of that TCU team, Gary Patterson, who is still coaching the Horned Frogs. The Frogs face Stanford Dec. 28 in the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.

It was just another night before the game for the Bulldogs unless you were Tom Morris and you happened upon Gewhite Stallworth, Tech’s 6-8, 322-pound offensive lineman, playing the baby grand piano in the hallway of the team hotel conference center. To see the video, go to @LATechFootball.

Hall of Fame play-by-play man Freeway Dave Nitz finished his official game boards at 11:55 this morning, just in time to go with Teemo, Benny Thornell, and Malcolm Butler to In-and-Out Burger for pregame meal...

Louisiana Tech (6-6 and 4-4 in Conference USA) won its final two games of the regular season to become bowl eligible; SMU (7-5 and 4-4 in the American Athletic Conference) became bowl eligible Oct. 27 — then lost three straight before winning its season finale at home against Tulane, 41-38. Read into that all you’d like, and consider this...

SMU is “the overdog” by five points (it’s a Haley Holtz term, Haley being the college freshman daughter of the father, and I’ll forever appreciate her for saying “overdog” back when she was a little person); the line has fluctuated up or down by a point for a week. The betting total is 66: think 35-31 for a final score, which is way possible —- and it could be more. Unless the field is a skating rink, there’s nothing to suggest it would be impossible for Tech-SMU to be a “let it all hang out affair,” what with both teams playing with house money because...

SMU can lose and still have a winning record at 7-6 — BUT, they’d go into the offseason, their first with Dykes, with a loss. But when you’re a Top 10 Scoring Offense in the Nation and your offensive coaching staff leaves for another program, do you really get penalized for one bad offensive game? Probably not.

If Tech loses it has a losing record at 6-7 — BUT the Bulldogs were 4-6 last month at this time and didn’t even know if they’d be invited to a free game or not. As things turned out, Tech reached into a barrel of plug nickels and pulled out a silver dollar: not only did the Bulldogs earn an extra game by winning their final two, but they got a similar regional opponent, they got a good date on the 20th before the Holiday Squeeze, they got a site in a huge Tech alumni area only four-and-a-half hours from Ruston — 400 had tickets to the LTAC Pregame Tailgate — they’ll get to play in a cool venue that should have all its seats sold for a prime-time ESPN game.

What does that mean? Intangibility or literally, I don’t know for sure, but it seems to point to either team being willing to roll the risk-reward dice just a bit more than might be usual...

What is the SMU offense like? Think of last year’s Tech offense, only with not quite as much score-from-anywhere power — but still plenty of that. SMU has a receiver who is almost a sure bet for the NFL (Courtland Sutton, 6-4, 218 and a junior), a Louisiana receiver (Lake Charles) named Trey Quinn who is also a junior and who has 160-ish more yards receiving than Sutton, a 1,019-yards back in Xavier Jones, and a sophomore quarterback, Ben Hicks, who passed for 3,442 yards and has played since the 2016 starter was injured in the first game last season. He and Tech’s J’Mar Smith are both sophomores, but Hicks is 11 games older…

The SMU defense will not be confused with the Iron Curtain or the Purple People Eaters. The Mustangs won games in which they allowed 32 and 38 points. They lost games in which they scored 40 and 45. Their bellcow win is either against North Texas in the second game of the season, 54-32 in Dallas, or Arkansas State, 44-21, also at home…

Not everyone is as perplexed about how the Frisco Bowl will turn out. Here’s a clip from the Dallas Morning News, with a quote from Jones, the Mustangs’ leading running back and sophomore from Spring, Texas: “As has been the case all season, SMU is focused on itself. Jones says the team is brimming with confidence. While he maintains that the Mustangs aren't taking Louisiana Tech lightly, he promised an SMU win in Toyota Stadium Wednesday night. ‘We're confident. Ain't nothing changed just because of the coaches,’ Jones declared. ‘It's been about us, it's going to stay about us.’”...

“Just because of the coaches…,” as Jones said, is about the departure of SMU coach Chad Morris and his offensive staff for Arkansas less than two weeks ago. The defensive staff stayed. Not-your-average graduate assistant and ex-QB G.J. Kinne —- C-USA Offensive Player of the Year in 2010 while the quarterback at Tulsa and a pro from then until this season — will call plays; QB Hicks will be a player-coach, and Dykes will make in-game decisions like when to kick, whether or not to go for it, all like that. You have to bet your hat that he’ll throw in some ‘trickeration,’ if nothing else than to have stoked a couple practices and, besides, why not? The Bulldogs were susceptible to misdirection early against FAU and got behind too far then to catch up later. Then again, a lot of people were susceptible to whatever the Owls did; they finished 11-3 last night by winning their 50-3 rout of Toledo in the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Apple Pecan Alamode Hold The Cinammon Boca Raton Bowl…

So, the Intangible Alerts are everywhere, hither and even yon. Another is that it’s Signing Day, a first for a signing date to be this early instead of the normal first-week-in-February time. Will that matter? Did a coach overlook some gameday something because he was talking to a standout 17-year-old lineman?

Who knows? The truth is, people are intangible. That’s why 95-percent of the games (this is an Intangible guess) come down to the Johnnys and Joes, not the Xs and Os. And still, the pregame window for this game is more murky than most.

The bottom line Tech fans might want to remember is this:

This senior class is already the winningest in history of FBS football (since 1988), no matter tonight’s outcome. They have one 33 games. Might be 34 around 10:30 tonight. The 33 wins has already broken the previous record of last year’s senior class, who won 31, despite a 4-8 record when they were freshmen. Sort of silly to complain about the fortunes of the 2017 season when the senior class will leave with the best record of any other class prior to 1988. The Bulldogs are climbing; in any sane world, that is an optimistic step…

Bowls are all about winning the Morale Battle. Betting? Your call. I don’t know.

But for Tech, scoring touchdowns in the red zone is a must against a team that scores 40 a game.

Energy is a must. Bowls Week is fun — right up until the time you lose the game. The Bulldogs can bury a lot of frustration tonight.

Quarterback and cornerback: hard positions to play. Tech must be strong at those two spots tonight. If Smith is throwing it well and the corners can guard SMU’s good receivers in man and free up some guys to blitz, Tech is the favorite.

 

 

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