A year ago at this time, Louisiana Tech was 3-5 en route to a 4-8 finish under first-year head coach Skip Holtz. The Bulldogs beat Lamar, UTEP, Florida International and Southern Miss (combined FBS wins: four) and closed the season by losing 52-14 to Rice, 24-14 to Tulsa and 30-10 to UTSA.
Fast forward to today, and Louisiana Tech is 6-3 and 5-0 in Conference USA play – two wins away from clinching the Conference USA West Division championship in their second year in the league. Take away payday losses to Oklahoma and Auburn and Holtz’s Bulldogs are 6-1 in games they have a realistic chances of winning, the one loss an utterly inexplicable one to FCS Northwestern State.
Manny Diaz has proven to be a smart hire as defensive coordinator, boosting Louisiana Tech from ninth to first in scoring defense in Conference USA games, dropping the average from 26.6 to 14.8 points per game. In conference play only, the Bulldogs lead the league in total defense, yards per play allowed and pass efficiency defense while ranking second in rushing defense.
On the opposite side of the ball, Cody Sokol has proven to be an upgrade over Ryan Higgins at quarterback, flipping his predecessor’s touchdown-to-interception ratio from 6-to-13 to 22-to-9. La Tech trails only Marshall in scoring at 42.8 points per game in conference outings, more than double from a dreadful 20.4 scoring average last season.
Finally, Louisiana Tech has flipped its fate in terms of turnovers, jumping from turnover neutral (21 takeaways, 20 giveaways) to leading the pack (18 takeaways, nine giveaways, a league-best plus-1.8 per game) in five conference games this year.
Add it all up and you get a four-game winning streak in which Louisiana Tech has out-scored the competition by a combined 172-53, punctuated by Saturday’s 59-10 thumping of Western Kentucky where the Bulldogs held WKU 29 points and 103 yards below their next-worst outputs this season. This was the same team that had dropped 66 points and 601 yards on Old Dominion just a week earlier.
Two more wins (remaining schedule: at UAB, at Old Dominion, vs. Rice) guarantees a spot in the Conference USA championship, though the folks in Ruston aren’t the only ones hopping Holtz’s bunch finishes 9-3. A win over undefeated-in-conference-play Louisiana Tech may be Marshall’s only hope at securing a spot in a College Football Playoff access bowl, but the Thundering Herd should be careful what it wishes for. A team playing this good on both sides of the ball and turning the ball over at this rate may just sneak up and win the whole thing.