2013 Louisiana Tech football's 10 things to know: A questionable hire and a soft landing

Bob Levey

When you knowingly change course away from an approach that is working, it is either brave and filled with foresight, or it is pretty stupid and likely to backfire miserably.

Confused? Check out the glossary here.

1. Changing course

For instance, when Larry Fedora left Southern Miss for North Carolina (and a lot of seniors left Hattiesburg as well), the Golden Eagles decided to replace the young, pace-and-offense minded Fedora with an old hand, South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, and went 0-12. A year later, almost acknowledging their mistake, they replaced Johnson with Todd Monken, who like Fedora, was an offensive assistant at Oklahoma State under Mike Gundy.

It is both unfair and anecdotal, but I thought of the Johnson hire quite a bit when Louisiana Tech replaced Sonny Dykes and his high-octane, Air Raid attack with the staid Skip Holtz. Holtz certainly has some wins on his resume; he took East Carolina to four straight bowls from 2006-09 and got the Pirates as high as 14th in the AP poll in 2008, then won eight games with South Florida in 2010 and briefly got the Bulls to 16th in 2011. He is a solid defensive coach -- from 2008 at ECU to 2011 at USF, his defenses ranked 22nd, 38th, 27th, and 23rd in Def. F/+. But his offenses have never been all that interesting, only once ranking higher than 62nd in Off. F/+.

This could work, of course. Any coaching hire might. Just because Johnson failed miserably at Southern Miss, and just because the circumstances are reasonably similar, doesn't mean Holtz is doomed. And besides, Holtz did bring in former Marshall coordinator Tony Petersen to run the offense; In terms of pass tendencies and pace, Marshall's attack was quite similar to Tech's in 2012. But Holtz's background doesn't really suggest he will let Petersen go too crazy in that regard.

But when you are a mid-major, the college football equivalent of a small-market baseball team, it might not be a good idea to knowingly turn your back on an approach that was working. In three years under Dykes, Louisiana Tech improved from 5-7, to 8-5, to 9-3. The Bulldogs ranked 48th in the 2011 F/+ rankings and 52nd in 2012. They were a force on special teams (second in Special Teams F/+ in 2010, seventh in 2012), and while the units never came together, they had shown potential on both sides of the ball: 24th in Def. F/+ in 2011, 14th in Off. F/+ in 2012. Attendance was improving, from 20,000 per home game in 2009 to 25,841 in 2012. And in players like 2011 junior college transfer Quinton Patton and 2012 true freshman Kenneth Dixon, Dykes was proving that his style of offense could draw some lovely star power to Ruston, LA. Voluntarily moving away from that type of head coach is ... risky.

I don't have a good feeling about this hire, in other words. But I didn't have a good feeling about Vanderbilt hiring James Franklin either. And maybe I'm overthinking this entirely because of the Petersen hire. Maybe Tech will get the best of both worlds: the high-octane offense mixed with better defensive discipline and overall quality. But I'll just go ahead and call myself a skeptic with this one.

2012 Schedule & Results

Record: 9-3 | Adj. Record: 9-3 | Final F/+ Rk: 52
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
8-Sep at Houston 56-49 W 36.1 - 30.9 W
15-Sep Rice 56-37 W 47.5 - 31.4 W
22-Sep at Illinois 52-24 W 32.7 - 29.8 W
29-Sep at Virginia 44-38 W 27.6 - 38.6 L
6-Oct UNLV 58-31 W 38.6 - 33.8 W
13-Oct Texas A&M 57-59 L 38.7 - 30.4 W
20-Oct Idaho 70-28 W 44.3 - 33.1 W
27-Oct at New Mexico State 28-14 W 22.5 - 30.7 L
3-Nov UTSA 51-27 W 35.5 - 28.6 W
10-Nov at Texas State 62-55 W 29.9 - 40.3 L
17-Nov Utah State 41-48 L 51.5 - 37.0 W
24-Nov at San Jose State 43-52 L 41.2 - 37.9 W
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 51.5 1 38.5 119
Adj. Points Per Game 37.2 7 33.5 107

2. The defense couldn't hold its end of the bargain

Of all the stats I referenced above, the most surprising might have been the fact that Louisiana Tech actually fielded a rock solid defense in 2011. By all means, the defense stunk in Dykes' first season (103rd in Def. F/+ in 2010), but the Bulldogs found some lightning in a bottle with a foursome of major playmakers in the front six: ends Matt Broha and Christian Lacey and linebackers Adrien Cole and Jay Dudley. The four combined for 41.5 tackles for loss, almost as many as Akron's entire team did that season. All four were gone in 2012, however, and Dykes' aggressive 4-2-5 fell back to its previous level, especially late in the year in shootouts against Texas State, Utah State, and San Jose State. The loss of linebacker Rufus Porter early in the season didn't help, but in all, the quality up front was lacking, and an experienced secondary couldn't make up the difference. That should certainly change under Holtz and defensive coordinator Kim Dameron.

(Dameron, by the way, is an interesting one. Dameron played for Lou Holtz at Arkansas long ago and has worked at schools like Cincinnati and Ole Miss; but in his last stop, a two-year stay at Cornell, he oversaw the complete collapse of Cornell's pass defense. And now he's leading a defense in Conference USA.)

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 1 19 19 26
RUSHING 17 27 18 40
PASSING 3 24 14 27
Standard Downs 15 12 16
Passing Downs 67 62 68
Redzone 9 13 5
Q1 Rk 23 1st Down Rk 15
Q2 Rk 23 2nd Down Rk 25
Q3 Rk 20 3rd Down Rk 54
Q4 Rk 25

3. Tapping the brakes? Or not?

To put it lightly, Dykes fully committed to a breakneck pace in 2012. Louisiana Tech averaged an absurd 87.8 plays per game last year, crossing the 1,000-play mark in just 12 games. The Bulldogs were pass-happy, but not ridiculously so; running backs still averaged 37 carries per game while quarterback Colby Cameron was averaging 44 pass attempts. With that many plays, you have plenty of time to try a little bit of everything.

At 69.7 plays per game, meanwhile, South Florida was far from the slowest team in FBS, but it probably goes without saying that the 2013 Tech offense will in almost no way resemble the 2012 unit, for better or for worse.

4. 10 turnovers? Really?

It is never a good idea to read too much into anything that happens in a spring scrimmage. But if you're looking for clues as to how a new offense, with mostly new personnel (the starting quarterback, top two receivers, and four starting offensive linemen are all gone), might be operating, "10 turnovers in 26 drives" is not a particularly encouraging phrase to see.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Colby Cameron 359 522 4,147 68.8% 31 5 10 1.9% 7.7
Zach Griffith 6'3, 185 So. *** (5.5) 3 6 31 50.0% 0 0 0 0.0% 5.2
Scotty Young 6'2, 210 Jr. **** (5.8)






Ryan Higgins 6'1, 196 RSFr. *** (5.5)








Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
Kenneth Dixon RB 6'0, 215 So. *** (5.5) 201 1,210 6.0 5.2 0 +25.4
Ray Holley RB 142 740 5.2 3.8 0 +5.5
Colby Cameron QB 51 232 4.5 3.1 0 -0.6
Tevin King RB 5'7, 170 So. ** (5.2) 45 353 7.8 7.4 0 +11.8
Hunter Lee HB 5'10, 200 Jr. ** 31 162 5.2 2.7 0 +1.7
Brandon Davis RB 5'8, 180 So. NR 21 112 5.3 3.3 0 -1.0
Marlon Seets RB 5'11, 215 Jr. NR





Blake Martin RB 5'11, 195 So. NR





5. Kenneth Dixon is a keeper

We don't know much about what will happen with this year's Tech offense. We don't know if highly-touted Texas Tech transfer Scotty Young, or a three-star youngster like Ryan Higgins or Zach Griffith will win the starting job. We don't know which, if any, receivers are capable of filling the four big shoes left behind by Quinton Patton and Myles White (combined: 159 catches, 2,101 yards in 2012). And we don't know how the line will take shape in replacing four all-conference linemen (okay, so they were in the WAC, and two of the linemen were second-team all-conference; that's still a lot to lose). There are interesting candidates throughout the offense -- Young was a four-star recruit, LSU transfer Paul Turner (who might or might not be eligible this fall) has high-end speed, and in all, there are seven former three-star recruits in the receiving corps. There are plenty of candidates with potential but almost no known quantities.

Kenneth Dixon, on the other hand, is a known quantity, or at least something close to it. As a true freshman in 2012, Dixon led a wonderfully efficient run game, but he had his moments in the explosiveness department. He rushed for 232 yards and six touchdowns in just 17 carries versus Idaho, then piled on 144 and four versus Texas State. He was rather high-variance (he also rushed for just 141 yards on 38 carries against New Mexico State and UTSA), but that can be written off, in part, by youth. He is a keeper. And he better stay healthy because it appears there will be a massive dropoff between Dixon and the No. 2 back, whoever that might be.

And honestly, Hunter Lee might be well-cast in an H-Back type of role; he is a decent, strong runner and was a wonderful receiver out of the backfield in 2012.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Quinton Patton WR 157 103 1383 65.6% 8.8 30.5% 68.8% 8.6 166.2
Myles White WR 76 56 718 73.7% 9.4 14.8% 60.5% 9.4 86.3
D.J. Banks WR 5'9, 185 Sr. *** (5.5) 52 33 434 63.5% 8.3 10.1% 80.8% 7.7 52.1
Hunter Lee HB 5'10, 200 Jr. ** 41 31 398 75.6% 9.7 8.0% 73.2% 10.5 47.8
Ray Holley RB 41 34 324 82.9% 7.9 8.0% 75.6% 7.2 38.9
Jon Greenwalt WR-Y 6'3, 200 Sr. *** (5.6) 30 24 210 80.0% 7.0 5.8% 76.7% 6.9 25.2
David Gru WR 26 16 200 61.5% 7.7 5.1% 53.8% 7.6 24.0
Andrew Guillot WR-Y 5'10, 180 Sr. NR 24 19 174 79.2% 7.3 4.7% 70.8% 7.0 20.9
R.P. Stuart WR 20 12 77 60.0% 3.9 3.9% 50.0% 3.8 9.3
Richie Casey WR 5'11, 185 Sr. ** (5.0) 18 14 119 77.8% 6.6 3.5% 72.2% 7.4 14.3
Kenneth Dixon RB 6'0, 215 So. *** (5.5) 13 10 35 76.9% 2.7 2.5% 69.2% 2.8 4.2
Jaydrick DeClouette WR 6'0, 175 RSFr. *** (5.5)








Paul Turner WR 5'11, 186 So. *** (5.7)








Eddie Johnson WR 6'3, 200 Jr. *** (5.5)








Kevin Gary WR 6'1, 180 Jr. ** (5.4)








Trent Taylor WR 5'9, 170 Fr. *** (5.5)








Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 109.0 3.49 2.63 47.1% 71.2% 17.0% 314.3 0.7% 3.6%
Rank 27 5 106 5 47 30 5 1 20
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
Stephen Warner C 40 career starts, 2012 1st All-WAC
Jordan Mills RT 34 career starts, 2012 1st All-WAC
Kevin Saia LG 40 career starts, 2012 2nd All-WAC
Oscar Johnson LT 24 career starts, 2012 2nd All-WAC
Matt Shepperd RG 6'3, 305 Jr. ** (5.0) 11 career starts
Josh Parrish RG 9 career starts
Larry Banks LG 6'4, 310 Jr. *** (5.5) 5 career starts
Alec Davis C 6'1, 275 Jr. ** (5.4)
Darrell Brown RT 6'5, 275 So. ** (5.3)
Jeremy Graffree RT 6'3, 300 Sr. ** (5.4)
Jens Danielson LT 6'5, 290 Jr. NR
Richard Greenwalt RG 6'4, 297 Jr. ** (5.3)
Josh Robinson LG 6'4, 300 So. ** (5.4)
Joseph Brunson C 6'4, 288 So. ** (5.3)
Ross Lodge RG 6'5, 300 RSFr. ** (5.4)
Mitchell Bell LT 6'4, 330 Jr. *** (5.5)

6. A line in past tense

The line was a major strength for Tech in 2012, and I don't say that simply because of the sometimes unreliable all-conference voting. Tech was outstanding, even when accounting for the quality of competition. The Bulldogs ranked in the Top 30 in Adj. Line Yards and, as is often a staple of the quick-striking Air Raid, were elite in the Adj. Sack Rate rankings. This was a well-rounded line, agile enough to do its job against the pass rush and sound enough to create plenty of creases for Dixon and company (while rarely allowing defenders into the backfield). This is all in the past tense, however, because five players who combined for 147 career starts are gone, leaving behind two reasonably experienced juniors guards (Matt Shepperd and Larry Banks) and little else. Line coach Matt Moore will get ample opportunity to prove himself in 2013.

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 124 96 70 105
RUSHING 85 74 79 76
PASSING 124 108 66 119
Standard Downs 96 66 109
Passing Downs 89 85 92
Redzone 85 76 89
Q1 Rk 100 1st Down Rk 106
Q2 Rk 91 2nd Down Rk 89
Q3 Rk 82 3rd Down Rk 110
Q4 Rk 123

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 89.1 3.33 3.22 40.0% 68.8% 12.9% 76.0 2.8% 4.9%
Rank 110 114 61 72 72 123 100 107 93
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Shakeil Lucas DT 6'2, 285 Sr. *** (5.5) 12 26.0 3.5% 2.5 0 1 0 0 1
I.K. Enemkpali DE 6'2, 250 Sr. ** (5.4) 12 24.5 3.3% 7.5 6 0 1 1 0
Vontarrius Dora DE 6'4, 250 So. ** (5.2) 12 23.0 3.1% 1 1 0 1 0 1
Jon'al White DT 12 19.5 2.7% 3.5 2 0 0 1 1
Kevin Kisseberth DE 6'1, 240 Jr. *** (5.6) 12 15.0 2.0% 2.5 2.5 0 0 0 0
Kendrick James (2011) DE 6'1, 245 Sr. *** (5.6) 13 15.0 1.9% 1.5 1.5 0 1 0 0
Justin Ellis DT 6'2, 330 Sr. ** (5.2) 9 15.0 2.0% 0 0 0 1 2 0
Vernon Butler DT 6'3, 300 So. ** (5.4) 11 14.5 2.0% 1.5 0 0 0 0 0
Andre Taylor DE 6'5, 250 Jr. ** (5.3) 12 13.0 1.8% 2.5 0.5 0 0 1 2
Malcolm Pichon DT 6'3, 330 So. *** (5.5) 9 12.0 1.6% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Carter Street DE 6'2, 250 So. *** (5.5) 3 1.5 0.2% 1 1 0 0 0 0
Devon McKinney DT 6'2, 265 Jr. ** (5.4)

DeAngelo Brooks DT 6'1, 290 Jr. ** (5.4)

Hakim Gray DE 6'4, 235 Fr. *** (5.6)






7. I.K. Enemkpali IS Louisiana Tech's pass rush

Or, at least, he was in 2012. The senior from Pflugerville, Texas, recorded six sacks last fall; the rest of the line combined logged just 7.5. In replacing so much explosiveness from the 2011 defense, Tech struggled most heavily up front. The Bulldogs had almost no presence in the backfield, ranking 123rd in Stuff Rate (the frequency with which you make plays behind the line against the run) and 100th in Adj. Sack Rate. They had one of the worse standard downs rushing defenses in the country, and while they held up alright in short-yardage situations, let's just say they had to face plenty of short yardage situations because of other deficiencies.

Experience will certainly be Tech's friend in 2013; only one lineman from last year's three-deep is gone, and Tech welcomes a pair of junior college tackles into the fold as well. As I often say, experience only matters if talent is also involved, but in Enemkpali, quick tackle Shakeil Lucas, mountainous tackle Justin Ellis, and the newbies, there is at least decent athletic potential here. There was potential last year, too, of course.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Antonio Mitchum SLB 12 50.5 6.9% 3.5 1 0 0 1 2
Chip Hester MLB 12 41.5 5.7% 0.5 0 1 1 0 0
Mike Schrang MLB 6'1, 210 Jr. ** (5.4) 12 33.0 4.5% 2 1 0 2 1 1
Solomon Randle MLB 8 26.0 3.5% 1.5 0.5 1 1 0 0
Rufus Porter LB 3 16.5 2.3% 2 1 0 0 1 0
Ty Hook WLB 6'0, 210 So. *** (5.5) 5 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jabari Prewitt SLB 5'9, 182 Jr. NR 3 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Beau Fitte MLB 6'1, 215 So. *** (5.5) 5 1.5 0.2% 0.5 0 0 1 0 0
Ronnie Fields SLB 5'6, 155 Jr. NR

Andre Wiggins WLB 6'2, 215 So. ** (5.4)

Nick Thomason MLB 6'1, 235 Jr. ** (5.3)

Mitch Villemez WLB 6'1, 230 Jr. ** (5.4)

Tony Johnson LB 6'4, 250 Jr. ** (5.4)






Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jamel Johnson SS 12 62.0 8.5% 1.5 0.5 2 4 2 0
Quinn Giles FS 12 49.0 6.7% 0.5 0 1 6 1 1
Dave Clark CB 6'2, 190 Sr. NR 12 48.0 6.5% 3.5 0 1 7 0 1
Chad Boyd FS 11 43.0 5.9% 2 0 1 7 0 0
Le'Vander Liggins CB 5'11, 190 Jr. *** (5.5) 12 41.0 5.6% 0.5 0 2 11 0 2
Javontay Crowe S 5'11, 195 Sr. ** (5.4) 11 39.5 5.4% 1.5 0 0 3 2 1
Craig Johnson CB 12 36.5 5.0% 4.5 1.5 0 0 2 0
Bryson Abraham CB 5'11, 175 So. *** (5.5) 12 31.0 4.2% 1 0 0 6 0 0
Kentrell Brice SS 5'11, 180 So. *** (5.5) 11 9.0 1.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Kendall Hayes SS 5'11, 185 Jr. *** (5.5) 12 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Adairius Barnes CB 5'11, 180 So. *** (5.5) 5 4.0 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
C.J. Cleveland FS 6'0, 182 So. NR

Lloyd Grogan FS 6'0, 201 RSFr. *** (5.5)

Terrell Pinson DB 6'3, 215 Jr. *** (5.6)

Thomas McDonald DB 6'3, 190 Jr. NR

Xavier Woods DB 5'11, 180 Fr. *** (5.6)

8. New safeties? No problem

Last year's top three safeties -- Jamel Johnson, Quinn Giles, and Chad Boyd -- are gone. They combined for four tackles for loss and 21 passes defensed, so there was certainly some solid athleticism there. But considering Tech ranked 119th in Passing PPP+ (big-play prevention), I cannot really say this hurts Tech all that much. Despite a poor pass rush, Tech's pass defense was aggressive and pretty efficient, but the Bulldogs gave up far too many big plays. Right now, it appears possible that a redshirt freshman (Lloyd Grogan) and a sophomore (Kentrell Brice) will be this year's starting safeties. Youth brings its own set of issues to the table, but since it is almost impossible for Tech to allow more big plays through the air, I'll say this isn't a bad thing overall.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Ryan Allen

45 48.0 6 8 20 62.2%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Matt Nelson 103 58.8 21 20.4%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Matt Nelson 76-80 8-11 72.7% 4-7 57.1%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
D.J. Banks KR 5'9, 185 Jr. 39 26.8 1
R.P. Stuart KR 3 10.0 0
D.J. Banks PR 5'9, 185 Jr. 20 6.0 0
Craig Johnson PR 6 -1.0 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 7
Net Punting 1
Net Kickoffs 96
Touchback Pct 105
Field Goal Pct 75
Kick Returns Avg 28
Punt Returns Avg 106

9. Ryan Allen might have gotten a lot more use this year

It's almost a shame to see one of the nation's best punters playing for a team that doesn't let him punt much. Ryan Allen punted fewer than four times per game in 2012, but he was absolutely ridiculous when he did. Allen averaged 48.0 yards per punt, and Tech had the No. 1 Net Punting average in the country. If he had any eligibility left, Allen could have assured that the Bulldogs' defense wouldn't have to defend a short field this year, as Tech will probably be punting more. The place-kicking is a question mark, as well, but kick returner D.J. Banks still gives Tech a bit of a strength in this unit.

2013 Schedule & Projection Factors

2012 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
31-Aug at N.C. State 61
7-Sep Lamar NR
14-Sep Tulane 111
21-Sep at Kansas 104
28-Sep Army 103
5-Oct at UTEP 108
19-Oct North Texas 112
26-Oct at Florida International 99
9-Nov Southern Miss 87
16-Nov at Rice 92
23-Nov Tulsa 56
30-Nov at UT-San Antonio 114
Five-Year F/+ Rk 69
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 87
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* +13 / +14.0
TO Luck/Game -0.4
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 6 (2, 4)
Yds/Pt Margin** -2.4

10. Are we sure Conference USA is better than last year's Sun Belt or WAC?

Again, I don't feel incredibly confident about Tech's hire of Holtz, and no matter who Tech hired, the Bulldogs might have been in for a step backwards in 2013 thanks to so much turnover in offensive personnel. But the defense could improve slightly, and damned if there aren't a lot of potential wins on Tech's schedule. After a season-opening trip to N.C. State, Tech plays six consecutive games against teams projected 99th or worse. The win total won't approach nine in 2013, but it should still remain semi-respectable.

Along these lines, are we sure Conference USA isn't just the New Sun Belt or New WAC? Last year's WAC had an average F/+ ranking of 79.8 thanks to the dominant trio of Tech, Utah State, and San Jose State. The Sun Belt had an average ranking of 86.5, Conference USA 82.8. The average projected rank for Conference USA in 2013? 96.2. Only Tulsa is projected higher than 79th, while eight teams (Middle Tennessee, FIU, UAB, UTEP, Tulane, North Texas, UTSA, and FAU) are projected 98th or worse. We knew the defections to what is now the American Athletic Conference were painful, but really, it was downright devastating. That's good news, however, for teams like Louisiana Tech, which should get a soft landing despite all of the turnover on both the field and the sideline.

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