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|
|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.)
|Q1 Rk||23||1st Down Rk||15|
|Q2 Rk||23||2nd Down Rk||25|
|Q3 Rk||20||3rd Down Rk||54|
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.
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|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)|
|Kenneth Dixon||RB||6'0, 215||So.||*** (5.5)||201||1,210||6.0||5.2||0||+25.4|
|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.
|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|
|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|
|Andrew Guillot||WR-Y||5'10, 180||Sr.||NR||24||19||174||79.2%||7.3||4.7%||70.8%||7.0||20.9|
|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)|
|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.
|Q1 Rk||100||1st Down Rk||106|
|Q2 Rk||91||2nd Down Rk||89|
|Q3 Rk||82||3rd Down Rk||110|
|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|
|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.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Mike Schrang||MLB||6'1, 210||Jr.||** (5.4)||12||33.0||4.5%||2||1||0||2||1||1|
|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)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Dave Clark||CB||6'2, 190||Sr.||NR||12||48.0||6.5%||3.5||0||1||7||0||1|
|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|
|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.
|D.J. Banks||KR||5'9, 185||Jr.||39||26.8||1|
|D.J. Banks||PR||5'9, 185||Jr.||20||6.0||0|
|Special Teams F/+||7|
|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
|31-Aug||at N.C. State||61|
|26-Oct||at Florida International||99|
|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|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||6 (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.