I posted a picture of the punter so you'd be less intimidated.
If you look at Louisiana Tech's 8-4 record this season, you'll notice a couple of things. One, they had some TOUGH losses to start the year - by 2 at CUSA Champ Southern Miss, by one vs. Houston after a furious Cougars comeback, by 6 @ Mississippi State in OT. But if you look closer, other than an uncharacteristic blowout vs Hawaii and the 4th quarter brain fart against Houston, the Bulldogs defense is certainly not to blame. Overall the Bulldogs give up 22 points per game, good for 34th in the nation and just right below TCU at 30th. However, those numbers are semi- skewed because over their last seven games, they only gave up more than their average one time - 28 points against San Jose State. Unsurprisingly, they won every game in that stretch.
lyle already hit you with some impressive statistics, but just for impact, I'll reiterate a few here and compare them to TCU. The Bulldogs recorded 32 sacks this season; TCU had 24. Their leading sack man, Senior Defensive End Christian Lacey led the team with 8.5; TCU did them one better as leading sack man was Defensive End Stansly Maponga with 9.0. The Bulldogs forced 29 turnovers, picking 20 passes and recovering 9 fumbles; the Frogs picked 9 passes and recovered 12 fumbles for a total of 21. La Tech has the country's 25th ranked rushing D in the country at 122 yards per game; TCU is 29th at 126. The Bulldogs have allowed 8 rushing TDs this year; TCU has allowed 6. You see where I'm going here with these arbitrary stats? The Bulldogs are pretty solid up front on defense and if you're thinking the Hydra is just going to walk in and bulldoze them for 300 yards on the ground, you may want to reconsider your expectations.
Christian Lacey got his name mentioned above, but even as the team leader in sacks, he's by no means the best defensive player on the team. In fact, he didn't even make All Conference. LB Adrien Cole did though, mostly on the basis of his team leading 120 tackles this season. TCU's leader - Kenny Cain - barely had half that. Of course, some of that has to do with the fact that TCU opponents ran about 130 fewer plays than those of the Bulldogs, but when you can put up numbers that impressive, you clearly have a nose for the ball. This is where we SEVERELY missed Tanner Brock this year and hope he comes back healthy and better than ever next. Another guy making an impact up front is Lacey's bookend Matt Broha, an All Conference selection who recorded 7.5 sacks this season and hurried the QB 8 times. He also has a Brody Jenner approved Brotastic last name. Both ends are seniors and clearly use their experience to their advantage. Look for them to try and make Casey Pachall's night as uncomfortable as possible.
However, if there is one area where the Bulldogs are lacking, and one the Frogs can exploit, it's a secondary unit that's allowing 252 yards a week. As lyle pointed out, as much as we have ripped our secondary this year, they give up over 30 fewer yards per game, although the Frogs have given up one more TD - 21,20 - and that unquestionably counts more. Looking at their losses, they were almost always done in by the opposing QB. They let Case Keenum drop 351 and 3 TDs on them in the midst of a late game 28 point comeback. Hawaii QB Bryant Moniz went for 410 yards and 4. Heck, in an early season win against Central Arkansas, they had to go to double OT for the W thanks to a 372 yard, 4 TD performance from former Arkansas enrollee Nathan Dick. Admittedly, the Southern Miss and Mississippi State losses had as much to do with the Bulldogs struggles on offense as it did with the passing D, but letting MSU QB Chris Relf toss even one TD over your head is grounds for failure.
However, knocking the passing D comes with a caveat, that being their nationally third ranked interception total of 20 led by LB Jay Dudley and DB Chad Boyd with 4 and 3, respectively. In other words, the Bulldogs may let you fling it around a little, but don't get too comfortable because they'll attack any little QB mistake. All Conference DB Terry Carter has also gotten his hands on one pass, but is known mostly for being a shut down corner having defensed 21 passes total this year. Josh Boyce probably can't count on Boise-esque coverage failures for easy scoers as long as Carter is lined up over him.
For the season La Tech has allowed opponents to complete an average of 24 passes against them per game, among the bottom ten in the country. Casey Pachall completes around 18 per game on average. I know the coaching staff has neutered him a bit since the Boise game - mostly because there was no reason to be winging it around all over CSU and UNLV - so you have to think he's ready to give that inked manga a workout. He's not going to attempt 55 passes like Moniz or even 40 like Keenum but I see no reason why the coaching staff would not allow him to attempt his usual 26 or so.
And yet... and I realize I'm completely going back on what I said above, if TCU is going to win this game, they are going to have to get the ground game going to open things for Pachall. If you want proof, Pachall attempted his highest number of passes against SMU - 42 - and his lowest against New Mexico - 17. SMU was our third lowest scoring game of the year, UNM our highest. Pachall's second highest attempts total? 39 at Baylor, another loss. Naysayers will point to his 37 against Boise and suggest it worked swell that time, but most TCU fans realize that as goes our ground game, typically so goes the outcome. We played two teams this year who had a better run defense than La Tech. One was BYU, where we were only able to grind out 136 yards on the ground. We very well may have lost that game had we not forced 3 turnovers or faced BYU's punt fail attack. The other team is Boise; that 126 yard ground performance was only saved by an absolutely heroic performance by Casey Pachall that transcended anything else we saw out of him the rest of the season. Do you really want to take those odds for a third time this season in a bowl game against a team that will be undoubtedly more fired up than our own? Didn't think so. Please don't take that as a knock on Pachall but more as a compliment to our rushers. I don't expect an earthquake, 100 yard rushing performance by man or anything, but they're going to have to do a lot more than they did the past two times they've faced a run D of this caliber.
On special teams, we've all been well introduced to Ray Guy award winning punter Ryan Allen and his deadly accuracy inside the 20. Yeah... but does he weight more than most college defensive ends? Didn't think so! lyle also pointed out the discrepancy between our punt coverage team and their punt return team. Refresher: They win that matchup on paper. They also have a kicker who focuses more on his in game kicking rather than his extracurricular, making 14-19 attempts and 96% of his PATs. Angry Ross is 13/16 and 95%, but will he even play?
But what you really need to know about Louisiana Tech on special teams is the punting situation, because as LSU has shown this year, a good punter is valuable beyond words. We hope the Frogs defense is going to force some stops in this one, but even if they do, the offense is almost always going to have their work cut out for them driving the ball down the field thanks to Allen. Pachall should be able to catch a few open lanes in the passing game, but as I said, things are going to run a lot more smoothly if we can get near our 210 yard average on the ground. I haven't seen an o/u for this one, but based on the Bulldogs run defense and punting game, plus our much improved D, I'd be shocked if this one wasn't a lower scoring defensive struggle.
We'll be back next week with a wrap up style preview and predictions. Enjoy the New Mexico Bowl, if you dare.