clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Skip Holtz is doing well at Louisiana Tech, but he's got a lot of transition to deal with in 2016

New, comment

Skip Holtz and Louisiana Tech won 18 games in two years, but turnover on the two-deep and another new coordinator hire could turn 2016 into a transition year for the Bulldogs.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. I think I was wrong

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.

I didn't love the Skip Holtz hire. My general thinking was Sonny Dykes had found something that works well in Ruston --- air raid offense, swarming secondary -- and straying from that recipe by going with a guy more defensive by nature (with a stolid offensive history) seemed misguided. Tech had won 17 games in two years, and while the Bulldogs were guaranteed to step backwards in 2013 after losing a ton of important personnel, I didn't love the idea of Holtz being the one to guide them back.

Granted, it's only been three seasons, and the first one was far more of a step backwards than I even anticipated (Tech ranked 123rd in S&P+ in 2013, reaching five wins only because of a paper-thin schedule). And granted, the last two seasons haven't been remarkably stable -- 2014's team was powered by excellent, aggressive defense, and 2015's team took a step forward offensively and two steps backwards defensively. Still, over the last two years Holtz has retained a wide-open offense while, at worst, matching Dykes' defensive numbers. And whereas Dykes won 17 games in 2011-12, Holtz won 18 in 2014-15.

At worst, Holtz has proven himself as solid a hire as Dykes. And in 2016, with record-setting running back (and Dykes signee) Kenneth Dixon gone, this officially becomes Holtz's program.

I guess that means Holtz still has time to fail. Tech loses a lot of last year's production, and Holtz has already had to make so many coordinator hires that an iffy one could derail whatever progress Tech has sustained.

Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz left after one year (2014) in Ruston, and Holtz promoted linebackers coach Blake Baker to that position; a much thinner defensive unit fell from 24th to 76th in Def. S&P+. And because of another go-round of turnover, we might not begin to find out how much of that regression was because of personnel and experience, and how much was because of the person leading the D.

Now the offense gets a makeover, too. Dixon and quarterback Jeff Driskel (who threw for 4,000 yards in 2015 after transferring from Florida) are both gone, and offensive coordinator Tony Petersen, who built a spread-offense bridge from the Dykes era to the Holtz era, is now at ECU.

In response, Holtz brought in veteran Todd Fitch to run the offense. Fitch is a 30-year coaching veteran who ran Holtz's USF offenses (the stolid ones referenced above). In seven seasons as an FBS offensive coordinator, he's been at the helm of one top-40 offense (2007 ECU) and five ranked between 50th and 90th. In 2015, his Boston College offense was one of the worst in the country (124th in Off. S&P+), and while it would be unfair to judge him on one year, it's fair to worry.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 9-4 | Adj. Record: 8-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 57 | Final S&P+ Rk: 54
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep Southern U. N/A 62-15 W 93% 100% +27.7
10-Sep at Western Kentucky 15 38-41 L 51% 37% +0.5 -4.0
19-Sep at Kansas State 81 33-39 L 22% 27% +5.8 +3.0
26-Sep Florida International 112 27-17 W 66% 95% -8.1 -4.5
3-Oct UL-Lafayette 104 43-14 W 78% 99% +5.2 +11.0
10-Oct UTSA 111 34-31 W 47% 81% -14.3 -7.5
17-Oct at Mississippi State 16 20-45 L 21% 8% -25.0 -11.5
24-Oct Middle Tennessee 82 45-16 W 96% 100% +18.2 +21.5
30-Oct at Rice 123 42-17 W 87% 100% +4.7 +12.0
7-Nov North Texas 126 56-13 W 75% 100% +3.2 +13.5
21-Nov at UTEP 125 17-15 W 44% 81% -25.3 -22.5
28-Nov Southern Miss 56 24-58 L 7% 0% -40.1 -40.0
19-Dec vs. Arkansas State 71 47-28 W 86% 99% +13.7 +17.0

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 35.3 26 29.4 76
Points Per Game 37.5 19 26.8 62

2. Rock bottom, then rebound

This is an optimist-vs.-pessimist team.

The optimist sees a loaded skill position corps, a former blue-chip quarterback, a more stable offensive line, a potential All-American tackle (seriously, Vernon Butler is a bad man), and one of the best secondaries in the country, at either the power-conference or mid-major level.

The pessimist sees a team that surged primarily because of a defense that now must replace a stud coordinator and most of its front seven, not to mention an offense that must replace its quarterback and an offensive line that might not be talented enough to gel.

I leaned in both directions in last year's Tech preview. It was pretty easy to see how the Bulldogs might sustain most of 2014's gains, and it was pretty easy to see things falling apart. The projections ended up being almost spot-on, but both the optimist and pessimist had their instincts proven right to some degree.

Tech showed immense upside and pretty low downside, and once the Bulldogs his a peak, a valley was soon to follow. They were great against Southern U., then regressed twice. They were solid against UL-Lafayette, then regressed twice. They were tremendous in a 29-point destruction of a decent MTSU team, then they regressed four times in row, bottoming out with an egregious home loss to Southern Miss (which cost them a division title). And then they were great again in the New Orleans Bowl.

It was a roller coaster of a season. Tech played four games at the 86th percentile or higher and three at the 22nd or lower. Still, a No. 54 finish and another nine wins sustained the gains of the 2014 campaign.

Now comes an even bigger test. Tech returns a sneaky-low amount of last year's production -- 39 percent overall, fourth-lowest in FBS -- and the quality of Holtz's recruiting will tell us how far the Bulldogs fall, if at all.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.36 24 IsoPPP+ 110.8 38
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 48.1% 13 Succ. Rt. + 107.0 41
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 31.2 99 Def. FP+ 30.5 85
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 5.0 24 Redzone S&P+ 103.2 61
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.8 ACTUAL 21 +0.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 21 35 41 38
RUSHING 81 65 62 69
PASSING 13 37 35 37
Standard Downs 30 35 26
Passing Downs 57 55 60
Q1 Rk 14 1st Down Rk 35
Q2 Rk 34 2nd Down Rk 26
Q3 Rk 74 3rd Down Rk 64
Q4 Rk 58

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Jeff Driskel 281 450 4033 27 8 62.4% 19 4.1% 8.4
Ryan Higgins 6'2, 212 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8088 15 25 138 1 3 60.0% 1 3.8% 5.0
Price Wilson 6'1, 223 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8038
J'mar Smith 6'1, 223 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8463
Jon Randall Belton 6'3, 203 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8537
Jack Abraham 6'0, 197 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8312

3. Got a QB?

Fitch's 2015 Boston College offense was never going to be fantastic, but it was mortally wounded by the QB position. Sophomore quarterback Darius Wade was showing at least a little bit of promise before he was lost for the season to injury in the third week. And from then on, one freshman after another made it to the top of the depth chart and failed. Three first-year guys combined to complete 44 percent of their passes, and while the run game showed a little bit of promise, it didn't matter.

Granted, it would only take an injury or two to render away any semblance of experience Tech has, but in theory, the Bulldogs' quarterback situation is better than what Fitch was working with in Massachusetts.

Ryan Higgins has been the runner-up to a transfer in each of the last two years. First, Cody Sokol overtook him for the starting job in 2014, then Driskel did the same last year. Higgins saw significant playing time in 2013, when he and a young two-deep were overmatched; he completed 59 percent of his passes but threw 10 interceptions in a four-game stretch. Over the last two years, he's completed 21 of 35 passes, mostly in mop-up duty.

We'll see what Fitch wants from the QB position, but Higgins showed at least a little bit of mobility in 2013. But after the 2015 experience at BC, Fitch might just prefer to wrap his QB in bubble wrap and have him never leave the pocket.

[Update: Higgins will not start the team's season opener against Arkansas as punishment for his DWI arrest.]

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Kenneth Dixon RB 197 1070 19 5.4 7.1 37.6% 4 4
Jeff Driskel QB 73 436 5 6.0 5.6 47.9% 3 0
Jarred Craft RB 6'0, 212 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793 58 230 1 4.0 2.4 36.2% 0 0
Boston Scott RB 5'6, 190 Jr. NR NR 34 275 0 8.1 9.0 47.1% 0 0
Blake Martin RB 20 80 1 4.0 1.9 35.0% 0 0
Ryan Higgins QB 6'2, 212 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8088 8 35 0 4.4 2.8 37.5% 0 0
Carlos Henderson WR 5'11, 194 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8213 5 54 0 10.8 5.4 80.0% 1 1
Jaqwis Dancy RB 5'11, 190 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8162







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Trent Taylor WR 5'8, 180 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8007 131 99 1282 75.6% 28.3% 9.8 64.1% 61.8% 1.49
Paul Turner WR 73 45 657 61.6% 15.8% 9.0 50.7% 49.3% 1.65
Carlos Henderson WR 5'11, 194 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8213 65 36 774 55.4% 14.0% 11.9 67.7% 46.2% 2.36
Kenneth Dixon RB 45 34 467 75.6% 9.7% 10.4 40.0% 46.7% 2.27
Marcus Gaines WR 5'6, 158 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7819 38 17 315 44.7% 8.2% 8.3 68.4% 42.1% 1.89
Kameron McKnight WR 6'2, 225 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8432 38 22 268 57.9% 8.2% 7.1 68.4% 52.6% 1.13
Marlon Watts WR 6'2, 187 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7652 27 16 144 59.3% 5.8% 5.3 48.1% 44.4% 1.05
Jarred Craft RB 6'0, 212 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793 11 9 60 81.8% 2.4% 5.5 72.7% 36.4% 1.23
Sanford Seay WR 11 4 50 36.4% 2.4% 4.5 63.6% 36.4% 1.26
Conner Smith WR 6'3, 216 Sr. NR NR 5 4 45 80.0% 1.1% 9.0 80.0% 60.0% 1.65
Grant Childress WR 6'0, 188 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7300 4 3 21 75.0% 0.9% 5.3 100.0% 50.0% 0.88
DeJuawn Oliver WR 5'11, 199 Sr. NR NR 2 1 37 50.0% 0.4% 18.5 50.0% 50.0% 3.95
Ricky Jones TE 2 2 25 100.0% 0.4% 12.5 100.0% 50.0% 2.77
Blake Martin RB 2 2 14 100.0% 0.4% 7.0 50.0% 100.0% 0.67
Alex Woodall TE 6'3, 240 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8256 2 0 0 0.0% 0.4% 0.0 100.0% 0.0% 0.00
Rhashid Bonnette WR 6'0, 157 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8479
Javonte Woodard WR 6'0, 189 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8158
Zach Cousar TE 6'4, 218 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8170

4. Life without your rock

In four seasons, Kenneth Dixon was Louisiana Tech's everything. He averaged 200 carries for 1,120 yards and 22 catches for 243 yards each year. He scored 87 touchdowns (despite scoring only five during the miserable 2013 season), even holding the FBS career touchdowns record for a millisecond until it was taken back by Navy's Keenan Reynolds. Dixon was steady and constantly serviceable, reasonably efficient and all sorts of explosive.

Losing Dixon means losing both your best running back and No. 4 receiver. The receiving corps has quite a few exciting weapons, but running back could be an issue. Junior Jarred Craft held down the backup role for much of the year, but didn't do much with it. But thanks in part to a Craft injury, tiny, explosive walk-on Boston Scott got a look and made the most of it. He rushed for 106 yards in just four carries against Arkansas State and showed spectacular explosiveness in minimal opportunities.

From a size perspective, Craft is Tech's most likely feature back, but Scott could be a wonderful change of pace, and rising sophomore Jaqwis Dancy brings a pretty solid recruiting profile to the table. There is potential here, but you're going from known quantities to unknowns.

There are fewer worries in the receiving corps. Losing Dixon and big-play man Paul Turner hurts, but if the running game is decent and there's a QB on the roster capable of throwing the ball semi-accurately, the receivers should do their jobs with aplomb. Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson combined for 135 catches and a massive 10.5 yards per target, and reserves like Marcus Gaines and Kameron McKnight flashed ability as well. Holtz has recruited well at the receiver position. Now we'll find out how he's done at running back.

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 93.5 2.88 2.63 40.5% 62.9% 22.1% 124.0 3.4% 6.4%
Rank 101 66 110 44 84 100 38 33 47
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Jens Danielsen RT 11 24 2015 2nd All-CUSA
Darrell Brown LT 6'4, 315 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7000 13 22 2015 2nd All-CUSA
David Mahaffey C 6'4, 307 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8222 13 16
Josh Robinson RG 13 15
Kirby Wixson C 1 13
O'Shea Dugas LG 6'5, 330 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8381 12 12
Joseph Brunson C 6'4, 314 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7923 0 8
Shane Carpenter RT 6'6, 300 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7726 2 2
Derek Edinburgh, Jr. LT 6'8, 325 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8992 0 0
Clayton Landry LG 6'5, 298 Sr. NR NR 0 0
Deontae McCrady RG 6'3, 307 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7744 0 0
Michael Rodriguez OL 6'6, 275 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7826 0 0
Cam Manning OL 6'2, 299 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8006 0 0
DeVante Lovett OL 6'6, 276 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8144
Joshua Outlaw OL 6'4, 310 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000
Taylor Fondal OL 6'1, 309 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8290

5. Three starters gone, four starters back

Shifts on the offensive line two-deep over the previous couple of seasons have created a solid base of experience. Tech must replace two 2015 starters and a 2014 starter, but the Bulldogs still bring back four guys who have combined for 58 starts and a fifth (Shane Carpenter) who got his feet wet with two starts in 2015.

Between these players, former LSU tackle Derek Edinburgh, Jr., and a couple of recent three-star signees, it appears the depth here is strong. But Tech ranked just 101st in Adj. Line Yards even while blocking for Dixon. The Bulldog front will need to raise its game a bit with a new cast of characters at running back.

SIGN UP FOR OUR COLLEGE FOOTBALL NEWSLETTER

Get all kinds of college football stories, rumors, game coverage, and Jim Harbaugh oddity in your inbox every day.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.22 45 IsoPPP+ 101.3 61
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 40.3% 60 Succ. Rt. + 101.8 60
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.1 87 Off. FP+ 29.3 86
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.2 46 Redzone S&P+ 98.7 78
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.5 ACTUAL 22.0 -2.5
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 48 61 60 61
RUSHING 13 36 38 32
PASSING 100 86 82 88
Standard Downs 59 62 65
Passing Downs 58 69 54
Q1 Rk 90 1st Down Rk 67
Q2 Rk 35 2nd Down Rk 61
Q3 Rk 67 3rd Down Rk 38
Q4 Rk 83

6. Run defense sank a little, pass defense sank a lot

The Tech defense was well-rounded and aggressive as hell in 2014, but there was no way to avoid a drop-off last fall. Not only was there a coordinator change, but the Bulldogs were also tasked with replacing five of their top seven linemen (including ace pass rusher Houston Bates) and their top three linebackers, who had combined for 24.5 tackles for loss and 16 passes defensed. That's a lot of production to lose at once.

The secondary was experienced, though. It stood to reason that unless the pass rush completely collapsed, the pass defense should remain sound.

The pass rush fell from 24th in Adj. Sack Rate to 80th. And while the secondary still made its share of plays, so did opponents. Tech fell from 22nd in Passing S&P+ to 86th, and it negated the impact of a surprisingly impressive run D. The Bulldogs stopped about one-quarter of rushes at or behind the line and ranked a healthy 36th in Rushing S&P+, but opponents leaned heavily on the pass to move the ball. The result: Tech fell 52 spots in Def. S&P+, from 24th to 76th.

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 116.9 2.45 2.38 36.6% 82.4% 24.9% 92 4.6% 5.8%
Rank 11 12 6 47 128 10 80 80 92
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Vontarrius Dora DE 13 39.5 5.5% 9.5 6.0 0 1 2 0
Vernon Butler DT 13 39.0 5.4% 10.0 3.0 0 2 0 0
Jaylon Ferguson DE 6'5, 256 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8111 12 28.5 4.0% 15.0 6.0 0 1 2 0
Aaron Brown DT 6'1, 270 Sr. NR NR 11 19.5 2.7% 4.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Deldrick Canty DE 6'2, 266 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8300 11 15.5 2.2% 4.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Tyler Porter DT 12 8.0 1.1% 3.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Matthew Ydarraga DE 6'3, 238 So. NR NR 6 6.5 0.9% 2.0 0.5 0 0 0 0
Immanuel Turner DE 6'3, 250 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7733 7 4.5 0.6% 2.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Jordan Bradford DT 6'2, 280 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8015 10 4.5 0.6% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Courtney Wallace DT 6'2, 336 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8377 13 3.5 0.5% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Darchi Anderson DE 5 2.5 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Hakim Gray DT 6'3, 303 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8318
Cedric Johnson DT 6'2, 304 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8522
La'Dante Davenport DT 6'3, 293 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7994
Keonatye Garner DT 6'4, 265 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7000
Kalan Ritchie DE 6'6, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8128
Willie Baker DE 6'2, 238 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8516
Ka'Derrion Mason DT 6'3, 280 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8467

7. Set for years up front

Tech must once again replace all three starting linebackers in 2016, but at the least, the line appears stocked with exciting prospects. The pass rush regressed, but Jaylon Ferguson still flashed potential with 15 tackles for loss and six sacks as a freshman. And while two of the top three tackles are gone (including outstanding Vernon Butler), Holtz and Blake Baker got a jump on this potential issue by giving four freshman reserves some playing time.

Senior Aaron Brown returns, and sophomores Jordan Bradford and Courtney Wallace each hinted at some upside in their 2015 opportunities. Throw in big reserves Hakim Gray and Cedric Johnson (each former three-star recruits), JUCO transfer Keonatye Garner, redshirt freshman La'Dante Davenport, and incoming three-star freshman Ka'Derrion Mason, and it feels like there's enough quantity here to produce likely quality. There are obvious depth questions at linebacker, but I like the options up front.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Beau Fitte LB 13 81.5 11.3% 6.0 0.0 2 1 1 0
Nick Thomason LB 12 62.0 8.6% 12.5 0.5 1 2 1 0
C.J. Cleveland LB 13 49.0 6.8% 1.5 0.0 0 3 2 0
Lloyd Grogan LB 6'1, 212 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8470 11 24.5 3.4% 0.5 0.0 1 3 0 0
Russell Farris LB 5'11, 217 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7900 13 19.0 2.6% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Durman LB 6'2, 226 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7904 9 9.0 1.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Dae'Von Washington LB 5'10, 220 So. NR NR 9 8.5 1.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Frasier Hogan LB 5'10, 216 Jr. NR NR 11 6.5 0.9% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Michael Mims LB 5'11, 211 Jr. NR NR 4 5.5 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Quanta Moore LB 6'1, 227 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7693
Collin Scott LB 6'0, 228 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8007
Dante Williams LB 6'1, 216 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7793
Devin Hamilton LB 5'11, 201 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8241








Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Kentrell Brice S 13 53.0 7.4% 3 1 1 8 0 0
Bryson Abraham CB 13 48.5 6.7% 2 1 3 16 2 1
Xavier Woods S 5'11, 203 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8241 13 46.5 6.5% 7.5 0 3 3 2 0
Adairius Barnes CB 13 44.5 6.2% 1.5 0 1 11 1 0
Secdrick Cooper S 6'0, 205 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7444 13 17.5 2.4% 1.5 0.5 0 2 0 0
Aaron Roberson CB 5'9, 196 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8108 7 13.0 1.8% 0 0 1 1 0 0
Trey Spencer CB 5'11, 171 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7960 10 8.0 1.1% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Elliot Blankenship DB 6'0, 202 Jr. NR NR 7 6.5 0.9% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Theron Williams S 5'10, 186 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7886 9 6.5 0.9% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Darryl Lewis DB 5'11, 193 So. NR NR 4 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Ephraim Kitchen CB 5'10, 170 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8305 2 4.0 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Roland Dunn CB 5'10, 174 Jr. NR NR 8 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
James Jackson S 5'11, 205 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8059
Jarrell Jackson
(Hawaii)
DB 6'0, 175 So. 2 stars (5.4) NR
Ronald Lewis
(Arizona State)
DB 5'11, 185 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8634
DaMarion King DB 5'11, 198 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7844
David Beasley DB 6'2, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8144
L'Jarius Sneed DB 6'1, 180 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8056

8. Major questions at corner

Defensive tackle is one potential issue that Holtz is addressing with quantity; cornerback is another. Despite regression in pass defense, corners Bryson Abraham and Adairius Barnes were still crazy-active, combining for four interceptions and 27 break-ups. Their absence raises major experience questions, but sophomores Aaron Roberson, Trey Spencer, Darryl Lewis, and Ephraim Kitchen all saw playing time as freshmen. Plus Holtz brought in two transfers (including Arizona State's Ronald Lewis), JUCO DaMarion King, and two three-star freshmen (David Beasley, L'Jarius Sneed).

If the corner position is stable, safety should be fine. Losing Kentrell Brice hurts, but senior Xavier Woods was even more active than Brice, and junior Secdrick Cooper saw quite a bit of action last year.

Though Woods is a senior, almost all of the exciting pieces of this defense are sophomores and juniors. That could mean a little bit more transition time in 2016 before the 2017 defense takes a nice step forward. Still, there is a number of options in positions of need, and if some new starters turn potential into production, there's hope for the 2016 defense.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Gerald Shouse 6'1, 199 Sr. 51 40.9 2 17 22 76.5%
Logan McPherson 5'10, 178 Sr. 4 33.3 0 0 1 25.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Jonathan Barnes 5'9, 168 Jr. 88 59.4 22 5 25.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Jonathan Barnes 5'9, 168 Jr. 60-60 16-18 88.9% 6-8 75.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Carlos Henderson KR 5'11, 194 Jr. 21 22.0 0
Jaqwis Dancy KR 5'11, 190 So. 17 17.4 0
Trent Taylor PR 5'8, 180 Sr. 13 6.4 0
Paul Turner PR 2 32.5 1
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 35
Field Goal Efficiency 25
Punt Return Success Rate 40
Kick Return Success Rate 87
Punt Success Rate 38
Kickoff Success Rate 123

9. Few questions in special teams

Quarterback, running back, defensive tackle, linebacker, cornerback. Louisiana Tech has questions to answer in a lot of units. But special teams should remain a strength, and that can do the Bulldogs some favors in terms of field position and finishing drives. Jonathan Barnes is a potentially excelelnt place-kicker, Gerald Shouse's punts are high and relatively long, Trent Taylor is a consistent punt returner, and Carlos Henderson is a potentially explosive kick returner.

Kickoff coverage was an issue, but this was an otherwise solid unit and should be again.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep at Arkansas 17 -21.2 11%
10-Sep SC State NR 22.6 90%
17-Sep at Texas Tech 43 -12.5 23%
24-Sep at Middle Tennessee 90 -1.8 46%
1-Oct UTEP 126 17.9 85%
8-Oct Western Kentucky 45 -4.6 39%
15-Oct at Massachusetts 127 11.1 74%
22-Oct at Florida International 113 6.6 65%
29-Oct Rice 119 14.5 80%
5-Nov at North Texas 128 11.9 75%
12-Nov UTSA 116 14.2 79%
26-Nov at Southern Miss 72 -6.8 35%
Projected wins: 7.0
Five-Year F/+ Rk 2.3% (55)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 84 / 81
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 1 / 3.7
2015 TO Luck/Game -1.0
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 39% (42%, 37%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 9.3 (-0.3)

10. Survive, then advance

With new starters in the offensive and defensive backfields and front seven, it's easy to see two different Louisiana Tech teams taking the field in 2016 -- an inexperienced, not-quite-gelled team that takes its lumps against Arkansas and Texas Tech (and maybe MTSU) early, and a more seasoned squad that rolls through the weak portion of its Conference USA schedule late. After three road games against projected top-90 teams in September, Tech faces six opponents projected 113th or worse in a seven-game span in October and November.

The key to this transition year will be how quickly the new pieces gel. Expect either a 1-3 or 2-2 start, but if the Bulldog two-deep is coagulating reasonably well, Tech could finish with six or seven wins in its last eight games. If confidence or depth issues emerge, however, then a trip to FIU becomes quite losable, and a 5-7 or 6-6 finish ends up on the table.

Skip Holtz has already done a better job in Ruston than I anticipated, but he's got a challenge on his hands in 2016. However the two-deep ends up taking shape, most of it will return in 2017, and like Marshall, the Bulldogs could experience a nice breakthrough. But depending on whether there are a few growing pains or a lot, 2016 might be more transition year than statement year.