(all times local to playing site)
|Aug. 30||TEXAS A&M||6:30|
|Sept. 8||at Houston||7:00|
|Sept. 22||at Illinois||7:00|
|Sept. 29||at Virginia||TBA|
|Oct. 27||*at New Mexico State
||*at Texas State||TBA|
|Nov. 17||*UTAH STATE||6:00|
||*at San Jose State||1:00|
Entering its third year under head coach Sonny Dykes and coming off a Western Athletic Conference title, the 2012 installment of Bulldog Football is expected to be improved over last year's championship team but will have to battle those expectations as well.
The Bulldogs return 16 starters (and 50 letterwinners) off a team that rebounded from a 1-4 start to win seven straight games and claim the school's first WAC title in a decade.
With eight starters returning, the Sonny Dykes- and Tony Franklin-led offense is expected to continue the marked improvements it made last fall, when it averaged 30.1 points and almost 400 yards of offense per game.
While the last two years have seen a lack of stability at quarterback, Tech enters the 2012 campaign with the job on Colby Cameron's shoulders to win or lose. Last year Cameron replaced the departed Nick Isham midway through the year as he led Tech to a win at Utah State and never looked back. The redshirt senior played in seven games - started in six - and threw for over 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns in that span.
Backing Cameron up will be Zach Griffith, a redshirt sophomore who sat out last season after joining the program from Fullerton Community College. In the T-Day Spring Game, Griffith showed he was more than capable as he was 38-for-44 for 419 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions while directing the second team offense.
Following Cameron and Griffith, Tarik Hakmi and Andy McAlindon stand ready to serve while Texas Tech transfer Scotty Young will direct the scout team offense in 2012 as he is forced to sit out due to the NCAA transfer rule.
The offensive back field looks to be as talented and deep as ever despite Lennon Creer exhausting his eligibility and the tragic loss of 21-year old running back Tyrone Duplessis to a heart attack on Feb. 2, 2012.
Former walk-on tailback Hunter Lee emerged as the team's go-to (and only) running back late last year as injuries and other circumstances decimated Tech's backfield. Lee stepped up admirably with 650 yards rushing on 135 carries and five touchdowns, averaging 4.8 yards per rush. Ray Holley ran for 144 yards on 36 carries before a back injury at Mississippi State ended his season early but he has been granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA.
A pair of talented freshman will follow that experienced pair as Tevin King and Kenneth Dixon round out the tailbacks. The two are both highly regarded athletes but with very different styles as King brings a speedy, quick move presence on the field while Dixon, at 6-0, 211 pounds prior to camp, has a tough downfield-running presence.
While Cameron may be the so-called "Field Marshall" there is no mistaking the leadership of "General" Quinton Patton whether he is on or off the field. Patton registered over 1,200 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns last season, averaging 15.2 yards per catch and an explosive manner that can leave defenders trailing in the dust. His off-the-field leadership is highly regarded as well, providing a source of comedy or motivation when needed. Patton will be backed up by the speedy and experienced Richie Casey and D.J. St. Julien. Casey is dangerous at any position as he even connected with David Gru on a 45-yard pass at Utah State that set up the team's first touchdown.
After spending most of 2011 battling injuries, Myles White emerged late in the year as a dangerous inside receiver capping the season off with 110 yards receiving including a 61-yard touchdown catch against No. 15 TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl. He finished the year with a respectable 414 yards receiving, averaging 13.8 yards per catch. White is expected to be spelled by newcomer Travis Reyes, a junior college product of Foothill JC.
Also on the inside will be the steady hands of David Gru, a quiet but constant receiver that is as reliable as anyone else on the field. Gru averaged 13.0 yards in his 26 catches (339 yards total) with one touchdown. He will be aided by Jon Greenwalt at the inside receiver "Y" position. Greenwalt joined the program in time for spring practice and exploded in the T-Day Spring Game with six catches for 161 yards.
Rounding out the receiving positions will be Jacarri Jackson leading the way at the other outside position. The coaching staff spent most of 2011 working with Jackson on becoming a more consistent player, utilizing his talents more often. Jackson's biggest play of the year came at Nevada with his over-the-shoulder, 25-yard catch from Cameron that set up the game-winning touchdown two plays later. Also at the "X" receiver position will be D.J. Banks, a Tulane transfer that sat out the 2011 season but brings explosive athleticism to the field. Banks caught four passes for 102 yards and a touchdown in the T-Day Spring Game showing he is dangerous on the field, particularly in gaining yards after the catch.
Paving the way up front will be a talented offensive line that returns four starters that have a combined 91 starts between them. The line is led by center Stephen Warner, a preseason watch listee for both the Outland and Rimington Trophies and a first team All-WAC selection last year. A former walk-on from nearby Ruston High School, Warner has the unique job of not only being the center but also calling the cadence prior to snaps.
Aiding Warner and his 28 career starts on the front lines are veterans Oscar Johnson (13 career starts), Jordan Mills (22 career starts) and Kevin Saia (28 career starts). Johnson, a right guard last year, has moved to left tackle to replace the graduated Kris Cavitt and Matthew Shepperd has moved from back-up center to projected right guard. Shepperd will spend fall camp battling Joshua Robinson for that position.
Larry Banks is expected to battle Oscar Johnson for the left tackle spot while Josh Parrish and Jeremy Graffree will be available to spell Saia at left guard. Alec Davis and Jens Danielson, both of whom joined the program in time for spring practice, will be the back-ups at center and right tackle, respectively. Overall, this year's offensive line has the most depth it has had in years.
Tommy Spangler's "GATA" defense was opportunistic and swarming last season, taking advantage of opponent's miscues last year and creating those miscues when they weren't presented. The highlight of the defense was ranking third in the country in interceptions, third in pick-sixes and 12th in turnover margin while posting the best scoring defense in two decades. The challenge for the group this fall will be to replicate that success despite losing five starters.
The defensive line may be the most experienced group as a whole to return despite the loss of Matt Broha and Christian Lacey. Returning with plenty of game experience this fall is second team All-WAC tackle Justin Ellis and Shakeil Lucas, both projected to be starters. Jon'al White also returns to the line while Vince Cano is making the move from offensive line to defensive line.
On the ends IK Enemkpali is a strong, athletic end with the ability to pressure the quarterback. Enemkpali registered 3.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss last year and those numbers are expected to rise in 2012 as he gets stronger and gains more experience. He will be backed up by Andre Taylor, who continues to improve at the end.
On the left side of the line, Kendrick James will replace Broha as the starter and registered 19 tackles including 1.5 sacks last season. He is expected to share time on the left end with Vontarrius Dora, an athletic defensive lineman that redshirted his true freshman year in 2011.
Overall on the defensive line the term "starter" is just a phrase used but with no meaning. Guided by Stan Eggen, Tech's defensive line rotates 8-10 players through any given series to keep the players fresh and explosive.
The losses at linebacker is where Tech's defense will be affected the most. Replacing a pair of All-WAC linebackers in Adrien Cole and Jay Dudley is no small task, especially when you consider Cole was the 2011 WAC Defensive Player of the Year. Cole and Dudley combined for 230 tackles, 31 tackles for a loss last season and five interceptions last season.
At MIKE linebacker, Solomon Randle is expected to start and is the most experienced linebacker on the roster with eight career starts. Randle actually has considerable experience, sharing playing time with Cole in 2010 and gaining more experience in 2011. He will be followed by Ches Morrison on the depth chart, a blue collar player that has spent the last few years working hard on the scout team and on special teams.
At SAM linebacker, Rufus Porter showed during spring practice he is ready for the task. Porter was one of the more vocal players on the team during spring practice although he did not play in the T-Day Spring Game. Also vying for time will be Antonio Mitchum, a player who saw time on special teams last year and finished the T-Day Spring Game with 13 total tackles including 2.5 tackles for a loss.
Leading the secondary will be safety Chad Boyd, a big playmaker for the Bulldogs entering his senior year. Boyd was fourth on the team in tackles last year with 76, picked three passes and the national media has already taken note of him as he was named to the Jim Thorpe Award preseason watch list. Behind Boyd is Quinn Giles, also a senior, who registered four interceptions and 34 tackles last season.
The only defensive back from last year's team that had more tackles than Boyd was Jamel Johnson, Tech's free safety who also returns. Jamel Johnson quietly racked up 88 tackles and two interceptions last year while starting in all 13 games. Kendall Hayes backs up Johnson a year after seeing some time in the secondary and gaining lots of game experience on special teams.
At Nickle, Craig Johnson looks to continue making the steady gains he made last season when he was thrust into game action during week two after Ryan Williams suffered a season-ending knee injury. Johnson learned on the job as he tallied 27 tackles, two tackles for a loss and an interception. Johnson will share playing time with the hard-hitting Javontay Crowe who registered 36 tackles and an interception last season.
Dave Clark at right corner is the most experienced of a very young group of cornerbacks on this year's roster and the only one to have started a collegiate game. Clark recorded 33 tackles and three interceptions last season, coming on strong midway through the year. He has the chance to lead a young but very talented group this fall.
At left corner Bryson Abraham and Levander Liggins will vie for playing time. Abraham spent most of the spring going against Patton, learning very quickly to adjust to incredibly talented receivers. Liggins has game experience, but mainly only on special teams as a return man. They will challenged by a group of freshmen coming in that are as athletic as any secondary signing class in the region.
Since special teams coordinator Mark Tommerdahl joined the program in 2009, Louisiana Tech has consistently fielded one of the best special teams units in the country. That unit received national attention in 2011 and has a chance to repeat its success in 2012.
Tech punter Ryan Allen put up incredible numbers kicking the ball last season as he averaged over 46 yards per punt while leading the nation with 39 punts inside the 20 and 22 punts inside the 10. Not unnoticed by the rest of the country, Ryan Allen won the Ray Guy Award (nation's top punter) and became the first punter from a non-BCS school to do so. He was also the only player from a non-BCS school to win a national award in 2011.
Allen's leg continually flipped the field for the Bulldogs in 2011 and during the Poinsettia Bowl ESPN announcer Joe Tessitore emphatically stated, "Good things happen when Ryan Allen is on the field."
Matt Nelson returns for his senior year as a seasoned veteran kicker that went 15-for-21 in field goals last season and converting 46 of 48 extra points. A second team All-WAC selection last fall, Nelson averaged 60.7 yards per kickoff.
The return game is dynamic and dangerous with every member of last year's punt and kickoff return teams back for another season. Andrew Guillot averaged 12.0 yards per punt return while Craig Johnson returned a punt for a touchdown against New Mexico State.
Levander Liggins proved to be a capable and speedy kickoff return man after Lyle Fitte suffered a season-ending knee injury while Chandler Spence and Richie Casey also return. Expect to see D.J. Banks back on kicks as well, providing several weapons for Tommerdahl's return units.
With the loss of Fresno State, Hawai'i and Nevada and the addition of Texas State and UTSA, the league's schedule does not look as formidable on paper but Utah State and San Jose State round out the league slate and by that point in the season could be playing for bowl eligibility, a conference championship or both. The (Utah) Aggies and the Spartans have the potential to make a run this season.
However, like last season, Louisiana Tech's early non-conference schedule should prepare the Bulldogs for the rigors of a conference slate. Tech hosts new Southeastern Conference member Texas A&M on Thursday, Aug. 30 at Shreveport's Independence Stadium. New (Texas) Aggie coach Kevin Sumlin knows all about Tech after coaching Houston to a 35-34 win over the Bulldogs last season in Ruston and will utilize all of his SEC and Big 12-level talent to get a win.
Tech then has to face a Case Keenum-less Houston squad on the road on Sept. 8 in trying to avenge that 35-34 loss where the Bulldogs led 34-7 late in the third quarter. Keenum and Sumlin are gone but the Cougars return a wealth of talent in 2012.
The Bulldogs come back home on Sept. 15 to host Rice in a preview of what will be a Conference USA game beginning in 2013. Following that, Tech hits the road for two more BCS games: at Illinois on Sept. 22 and at Virginia on Sept. 29. The final non-conference game will be on Oct. 6 in Ruston as the Bulldogs host UNLV.