It is game week. You guys are not as excited as we are. It seems like we have been waiting on this day for a long time now as we go all the way back to winter workouts, spring ball, summer conditioning and then a long fall camp. I think everybody, especially the players, are ready to start hitting somebody other than each other. They are ready to hit somebody other than the guys wearing the Louisiana Tech helmet.
Kind of reviewing camp and going back through the last three weeks and everything we have been through, we came in with four objectives we really wanted to get done in camp this year.
It started with putting in our schemes offensively, defensively and with the kicking game and getting everything taught. I feel really good about the progress we have made with our depth chart and scheme and what we have been trying to put together and the way the players have grasped it.
I think the staff has done a really good job and I think the players have put a lot of time, effort and energy into meetings, practice and walk-throughs and grasping what we are trying to do.
The second thing we wanted to do was develop our depth chart. Coming in with so much inexperience and so many guys that had not played, we wanted to get the depth chart formulated, so we could really start working with the guys that are going to play. It has taken us a little while to do that because with so many guys that missed spring ball and so many new additions that came in over the course of the summer that are in our two-deep, but I feel good about that.
Especially with the kicking game because you do not know who is going to be in your two-deeps. You do not know who to put on your punt team, kickoff team and your kickoff return, so it is nice as a coach to have some of that stability where we know what we are doing from a depth chart standpoint.
We wanted to really develop leadership and bring this team together. I think there are some position groups that have obviously done a great job of kind of leading this thing to this point through camp. The defensive line is one you definitely have to talk about, especially when you look at IK Enemkpali, (Justin) Ellis, Shakeil (Lucas) and the guys up front (Kendrick James). I think those guys have really done a great job and that is definitely the leadership on the defensive side of the ball – it starts with the defensive line and the experience that has been there. You just have so many new players in the secondary and linebacker that I think it is hard for them to take on a leadership role.
On the offensive side of the ball, I think Scotty Young has really done a nice job. I think he is kind of getting comfortable in that starting role that he has been playing for us right now and I think he is doing a better and better job every week of getting more vocal and starting to be a vocal leader. Guys like D.J. Banks, Richie Casey, Matt Sheppard, Vince Cano – those upperclassmen have really done a nice job as well.
Then, we were trying to develop experience and that is hard to do. I wish we had a maturity pill that we could give a lot of these guys that would make them a little bit more comfortable in that role, but the way we have tried to offset some of our inexperience is we have gotten an awful lot of scrimmage reps this fall camp. We have over 250 live snaps of work against each other and do an awful lot of teams together with 1-on-1 and 2-on-2. We have tried to get as much speed and good work as we can get. As a coach, you hold your breath and hope you can stay healthy.
As we get into this, one of the unknowns that has created a lot of question marks are some of the injuries we have had. We have not had that many season-ending injuries, although when you look at it right now, the two that will definitely be out for this game are Nick Thomason – a new linebacker who was injured during the spring; he had a post-spring surgery and will still be held – and then Jaydrick DeClouette, who hurt his knee in the second scrimmage we had. Those two are the only two that are out, but we have had a lot of nagging injuries. We have had a lot of guys miss time and between some of the injuries and the waivers, it has created an awful lot of uncertainty right now, and that is probably the good and bad of what we have been through in this fall camp.
When you look at NC State and the challenge we have this week, I think it will be a great challenge for us going on the road, especially as we just talked about with so many guys playing for the first time. When I look at NC State, I think Coach (Dave) Doeren has done a great job everywhere he has been. When you look at the success he has had, he is an excellent football coach. I would imagine this game is going to be very up-tempo. You may only see a huddle put together on the sidelines for both teams. It is going to be an exciting game to watch from a fan base perspective. I know our players are really excited.
When I look at the strength of this football team, NC State, I look at them on offense and right now there are a lot of unknowns with the quarterback position. You have two quarterbacks competing for it and both of them are transferring in – one from Colorado State and one from Arkansas. They are both completely different in style. One is a thrower and one is a runner. They are both big. You look at the roster and I am just glad it is not a basketball game. You look at their offensive linemen at 6-7, 6-7, 6-5. Their quarterbacks – one is 6-4, 240 lbs. and one is 6-6. They have great size and athleticism, especially when you look at (Brandon) Mitchell at quarterback.
We do not know what we are going to get at quarterback, so you have to prepare against both styles. They have a very big offensive line. Their two tackles are impressive. When you look at them on film, those are their two returning starters on the edges. They have two very good receivers. They have Flanker, who was their punt returner and kick returner. He is speedy, shifty and makes a lot of big plays. You look at the other split end who is 6-4 215 lbs. and can really run. He will test us deep. I am sure they will run the ball and try some play action pass to get up over the top, but I think their offense is very talented.
Defensively, it starts with their two tackles – defensive tackles – inside. Both of them are returning players. Both of them flash when you watch the film. They definitely stand out and are very talented. Inside, their linebackers are very long and lean. When you look at them, they have their free safeties back, who are kind of their quarterbacks in the middle. Their two corners have great size – one is 6-2 and one is 6-1. I think they are going to pose some challenges for us as a defense.
Then, with special teams, they have their punter back, who is a two-year starter. Their kicker is back as a two-year starter. Their deep snapper is back. They have a lot more experience returning, but like I said, I think our players are excited about the atmosphere and opportunity, and I think they are really excited about having the opportunity to start the season. Like I said, it is going to be a great challenge for us, but one we are really excited about and excited about the opportunity to get the 2013 season under way.
On preparing for two quarterbacks against NC State:
It is hard because you have to split your time. You have to split your time and you have a new staff coming in, so you do not know what they are going to do offensively. You do not have any of last year's film to watch to say this is what they are going to do throwing. So, you are trying to get film from all over the country. You are trying to find offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators and special teams coordinators from Northern Illinois and NC State to watch their personnel.
You just have a lot of different things which makes for a lot of unknowns and that is what I keep talking about is just some of the unknowns you have getting into this game, so you just have to split your time and take all those pieces of film and try to assimilate what they are going to do if they are a passing team and what they are going to do if they are a running team. Right now, it just makes it hard defensively because you cannot put all your time into putting together one game plan.
I think in the opening game you always have to be careful because the opening game normally comes down to the team that makes the fewer number of mistakes – the team that has a solid kicking game, does not give up the big play, does not turn the ball over, tackles well. I think that is what the first game comes down to, so you have to be careful because you do not want to make too many mistakes, be too complicated and put too much in. I think you have to have a very simple approach for both game plans predicated on what quarterback is going to be in the game.
On what a win in his first game at LA Tech would mean to him:
I think I am more concerned with how we respond to the first game than I am with what happens in the first game. We have talked about some of the goals we have and winning championships, and obviously you want to go into this game and compete and find a way to win. But, in the opening game of the season, if we were to win this game and lose the rest I would not say this was a pivotal little game in the season just like if you were going to lose this one and win the rest. I think it is going to be more of what we learn from this.
They say the progress you make from game one to game two is normally the biggest jump you are going to make as a football team, so for me, I am excited to watch this team play. I am excited to see a lot of the underclassmen or players that have not played a lot get out on the field. I am excited to see them compete. I am excited to watch this team play. I have talked all camp about their attitude and togetherness and how hard they have been working. I am just really excited to watch them get on the field and play. I think they will play with passion, energy, excitement and enthusiasm, and I am excited to be part of it.
On the LA Tech offensive line going against good defensive linemen:
It is a great challenge as I continue to say. For our defensive line and those returning on the defensive side of the ball, I think it is going to be a great challenge for them to go against an offensive line like NC State's, to go against two tackles like they have, whether it is the athletic quarterback or the throwing quarterback.
I think this is going to be a great learning curve for us. How it is going to play out with two new head coaches and a lot of unknowns in this game with new guys playing in this game on both sides of the ball. I think for us right now, it is all about putting our best foot forward and putting our best team out there Saturday and see where we are. I think it will be a great evaluation tool for us, but it will also be a great learning experience for us. It will be an evaluation tool for coaches, but a learning experience for our players because the talent level of the players we are going against on an every-down basis.
On preparing Scotty Young for game-like situations:
The thing that is an advantage is you have a guy like Scotty who has zero experience in the college game, but he is a redshirt junior. He has been around the college game. He has had a lot of scrimmage reps.
On the other side, you look at a guy like Xavier Woods who was playing high school football a year ago. Those two levels of inexperience are different. One is probably inexperienced with immaturity and Scotty has been around the game. I think all you can do is put them in a lot of game-like situations and try to go good-on-good as much as you can. I think that has helped our football team improve this camp.
On his experiences with first games at various schools:
Normally the team that makes the fewest number of mistakes is the team that is going to win. I think opening games are lost more than they are won. I think it goes back to what kind of experience you have coming back. When you talk about a first-year head football coach, you go back to my first game at Connecticut or my first game at East Carolina and South Florida, I think it is more the experience of your team.
You have nine months to kind of put your team together. There are some question marks and unknowns and guys that have not played. I think as a football coach, you just have to make sure that in that opening game you have to be as simple as you can be to give your players an opportunity to go out on the field and play and not be robotical because they are paralysis through analysis where they are thinking so much and trying to get lined up. To look at it, they are going to be going at a fast pace, so our defense is really going to have to digest a lot of different information in a hurry.
On the advantage of being a first-year head coach and no one having tape on your team:
That is why I think both teams are in the same boat. Right now, they are pulling South Florida film, Marshall film, Louisiana Tech film. They are doing the same thing on us and that is why when I said there are a lot of unknowns in this game, there are a lot of unknowns on both sides in this first game. It comes down to this not about trying to be perfect and trying to guess what they are going to do. This is trying to make sure you are as solid as you can be with your football team.
This is not going to be a big scheme game where we are going to do this because they are doing that, because you do not know what they are going to do. I think both teams are going to be very vanilla at the beginning and kind of feeling each other out kind of like a heavyweight fight. You are going to see a lot of adjustments being made and teams feeling more and more comfortable with what they are doing and what they are going to try to plug in from a game plan standpoint. This is not one you go in with a call sheet and say we are going to do all these things to attack them because you do not know what you are going to get. Both teams are in the same boat.
On the importance of halftime adjustments versus NC State:
I think they will be really important and not only important for the adjustments being made, but how your players are going to handle them with two first-year head coaches because we do not have players that have been in our systems for three or four years that can go back and remember when we did that last year and turned that and did this and that. You are not going to have a lot of that, so I think it will be adjustments and how simple you can make them so your players can go out and execute them in the second half.
On the unknowns in this game applying to both teams' quarterbacks:
Well, we are going to put Tevin King at quarterback in our wildcat. Now they have two quarterbacks to prepare for. I think the difference about Scotty (Young) is we are dealing with one quarterback where if you know the quarterback's capabilities are – strengths and weaknesses – then you have a little bit better idea of how to prepare for it. The challenge we have is not knowing which style of quarterback we are going to play against. That is why I threw out that little tidbit about Tevin King being our wildcat quarterback. Now they have to prepare for two. There are unknowns on both sides with how their quarterbacks are going to perform the first time and how ours are going to perform.
I feel really good about the progress Scotty has made and the decisions he has made and what he has been doing. I am excited to watch him play. I just hope he will go out and play like he has in the practices and the scrimmages and we do not make it bigger than it is and keep the focus on what is going on between the lines and not the circus that goes on around the game when you get in the crowd, the cameras and atmosphere. If we can just maintain our focus because that is probably the biggest thing with inexperienced players you see. They get sidetracked with what is happening on the perimeter rather than staying focused between the lines.
On easing Scotty Young into situations in his first start:
We will because we do not know what we are going to get from them. We do not know if they are going to be a pressure defense or zone defense, which is why I think both sides offensively and defensively are going to be feeling each other out a little bit for the first quarter of this game. We will see what they can do and what we will try to attack because you just do not know. I think there are a lot of people around the country that are in these first-games. That is why you see first games not always go the way everybody wants them to. There are a lot of unknowns in the first game.
On NC State being a statement game for the defense:
We want to see improvement without a doubt. I think they want to see improvement and that is a very proud group. We talked about that defensive line and the leadership they have given. I think they want to be better and want to be good, and as I said, this will be a great challenge for us with the team we are going up and playing against.
It is a very talented team and maybe one of the more talented teams we are going to have an opportunity to play, especially when you look at their measurable – their height, weight, size, speed and athleticism. I think it will be a great challenge for our defense and I think there is no doubt we are going to learn an awful lot about not only our football team, but about our defense and how much progress we have made.
On NC State defensive scheme:
When you look at their linebackers just with their height and weight and athleticism, it is not like they are 250 lb. linebackers that are just 4-2 linebackers. When you look at them across the board, I made the statement they are long and lean. They are 6-3 220 lbs. where they have the ability to bump out into a 4-2 nickel where one of those players can go out and play the slot. They can also bring him in and roll the safety out and play a 4-3 defense. I think the two of them are interchangeable and we have had the opportunity to see both looks a little bit so far during camp. I do not know that the looks are going to be just alarming as much as what they try to do out of them. I think we will get both a 4-2 and 4-3 look predicated on what formations we give them as an offense.
On minimizing mistakes made in the first game:
We just continue to harp on many of the things we have been harping on during camp – not turning the ball over, lost-yardage plays as an offense, missed assignments where you are turning people free into your backfield. You have to eliminate the lost-yardage plays so you do not put yourself behind the chains as an offensive football team. I think if you can minimize your lost-yardage plays and turnovers, then you have given yourself an opportunity to be in the football game.
The same thing defensively: we have to make sure we keep the ball in front of us. We are going to be challenged on the corner. They are going to throw some balls up to the big receiver who has had success going up and getting jump balls, so we are going to be challenged there. We have to keep the ball in front of us and try not to give up the big play. If a negative play happens, how quickly can you erase it, forget it and go on to the next play?
As we say all the time, we cannot allow one of these plays in the game happen twice. That play is over and go on to the next one with a short memory and let's keep playing hard. At the end of the game we will figure it out. I think as coaches all you can do is continue to emphasize with your team the things we are looking for and what we are trying to do. We have been trying to emphasize that in our scrimmages and game periods every day.
On starting true freshmen:
Well that goes back to what we talked about with the maturity and inexperience, but I think that expression of if a dog is going to bite you, he is going to do it as a pup. We are going to learn a lot about these freshmen with them going out in this type of atmosphere right out of the shoots in the very opening game. When you look at it, there are four true freshmen that have an opportunity to play. Xavier Woods and Trent Taylor are two that will definitely play.
Logan McPherson will definitely handle the punting duties. Right now, Kyle Fischer and Jonathan Barnes are in a competition for the kicking position. I think you have four true freshmen that have an opportunity to play in this game, but I think they are four talented freshmen that I feel like their mental makeup is going to be fine in a game like this.
I have really been impressed with the way they have handled it. When you look at playing a freshman, it is not only talent, but it is their opportunity to get on the field and also their mental makeup. Can they handle it in that arena and that atmosphere? I feel really comfortable right now with those three, but I am excited to watch them. There are a lot of unknowns, but I am going to learn as much about this football team on Saturday as you all are.
On Eddie Johnson returning to practice:
He went lightly last night and then, we will get a better idea with him on Tuesday, but right now, I both him and Terrell Pinson are probable. I am very comfortable right now that both of them will be able to play. It is just hard because they have missed so much work. How much can they play? What role are they going to play? I do not know the answer to that yet, but it looks like both of them are going to be available.
On moving Hunter Lee around in Eddie Johnson's absence:
When you start looking at that one position – you have Andrew Guillot, Lyle Fitte, Hunter Lee and Trent Taylor. All of a sudden, you are four deep over there and you look over at your other position. We were just trying to get some balance to make sure our depth worked out with (Scott) Cathcart and (Jon) Greenwalt and Hunter Lee. That way, it worked out if Eddie did not come back, because we needed to start preparing for this a week ago as you start getting ready for your game plan, and that is why we moved Hunter over.
On Kentrell Brice moving over because of injuries:
You have to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. You do not want to get to game day and say he cannot play and move everyone somewhere and start moving your depth chart around. I think in preparing for the worst and hoping for the best, some of the personnel changes were made – because of some of the injuries we have had during camp.
On playing NC State in an area he is familiar with:
I can remember a lot of days growing up from 8-12 years old and I grew up at that stadium at NC State. I used to talk about running up and down the hill, but now it is all seats and they have filled everything in. I can remember back in the early 70s with Willie Burden, The Bucky Boys (Dave and Don), Ted Brown and so many of the players that I idolized and looked up to and I got the opportunity to go to practice every day. I have a lot of memories, very fond memories, of NC State and our time there. I am looking forward to go back. There will be an opportunity to see a lot of people from our East Carolina days and when we lived in Raleigh at NC State. For me, it will be nice to go back, but I am more excited about the game than I am just going back.
On Paul Turner's status:.
At this point, we have not heard. We are still in a waiting process and that is what I talked about with the waivers. It is a process, not a decision. You send in the waiver, they need more information and then Paul has to get the information and they send it back. They will need a little more on this, so it is a process and I am certainly hopeful that at this point everything is turned in and we can have a decision as soon as we can this week. It would definitely help us in our preparation as we are going forward. I know they are working with it and they have a lot of waivers around the country that I am sure they are looking at, so there are a lot of variables that go into it. We are in the same situation as some of the injuries. We are hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.
On the athleticism of the LA Tech secondary:
I really like when you start looking at Adairius Barnes and (Le'Vander) Liggins with what they have done. I have been really impressed with them and the progress they have made, especially Adairius Barnes, who has not played, and the way he has practiced, performed and comes to work every day. When you start talking about (Xavier) Woods and (Lloyd) Grogan, Terrell Pinson and Thomas McDonald – Pinson and McDonald are the new additions – and then Connor Nichols who has been there, I feel really good about our two-deep and it is not just feeling good about the first game.
I feel good with their youth because there is not a senior in the group right now. When you look at them, they are only going to get better and better and this is going to be invaluable experience for them, not just for this game, but for the season as we look into playing in a lot of these non-conference games and trying to get ready for the conference race.
On the importance of getting Kenneth Dixon and Tevin King into the game plan early:
As a head coach, I would love to see them get going. I think it is really important in our success. Where do you hang your saddle? Early. You have a quarterback that does not have any game experience, but he has been doing a nice job in camp. I feel very comfortable with the progress Scotty (Young) has made and if he continues to be doing what he has in camp.
Do you put your saddle on your running game when you have four new offensive linemen starters? You have four new offensive starters even though you have the experience in the back end with Kenneth Dixon and Tevin King. You have four new offensive linemen. I think it is going to be very hard in this opening game to be predictable to come out and say we are going to establish the run. I think that is part of wanting to find out what they are doing defensively and make sure you are simple enough that you give your players a chance to execute it, whether that be the passing game and getting the ball downfield or the running game and getting inside.
I do not think you can go into this game and say we are just going to be one dimensional or go in and put the saddle on our experienced five offensive linemen and running backs in trying to protect our quarterback.
There are a lot of unknowns in our running game as well with all the new starters on the offensive line. I feel the same way about them. The way Jeremy Graffree and Mitchell Bell are progressing and what they are doing at right tackle and the way Vince Cano has played in the scrimmages at the center position; Larry Banks at left guard and what he has been doing there and Jens Danielsen has done a really nice job at left tackle. You do not know if it is what we are doing as an offense or who we are going against as a defense and vice versa. I feel good about those guys just like I do Scotty Young. There are just a lot of unknowns at this point.
On the depth chart:
I think the big competitions right now on the offensive line have been at left guard with Tre Carter and Larry Banks and at right tackle with Jeremy Graffree and Mitchell Bell. Those have been the two battles for starting positions. Vince Cano, Matt Sheppard and Jens Danielsen have kind of solidified those positions, but right now it is not so much that Banks or Graffree are not playing well as much as Mitchell Bell and Tre Carter have really come along and are doing some good things.
I think there are some battles going on there as I talked about even this week and I think all of those guys are going to play. They have all earned the right to play with the level of play they have played on the field. Then there are some young guys in there when you start talking about Darrell Brown at left tackle and the way he is progressing and getting better every day.
The linebacker position: I think Mitch Villemez had missed a little bit of work. Beau Fitte is getting better. I really like what Daniel Cobb has brought to the football team with his experience and maturity. He has been vocal and a leader. He has really done a nice job, but with Nick Thomason's injury, you have a lot of new guys there. Villemez and Cobb are new additions. Tony Johnson just came in for camp. He is doing some good things. Beau Fitte, Mike Schrang, Ty Hook; those are others that are doing good things right now.
I was hopeful we would be a little more consistent at the linebacker position right now. I think these guys are working hard out there and we just have to continue to come along and develop.
After an offseason of immense change, Louisiana Tech enters the 2013 season a brand new team with a brand new look as the Bulldogs open the year at NC State (0-0).
LA Tech is entering its first year in Conference USA and first season under the direction of new head coach Skip Holtz.
LOOKING TO CONTINUE RECENT SUCCESS VS. BCS TEAMS
Normally guarantee games only guarantee a large check and a big win for the paying team. However in recent years, Louisiana Tech has bucked that trend in a dominating way.
Over the last two seasons, the Bulldogs are 3-2 against teams from BCS automatically qualifying conferences with both losses determined by one possession.
Last year alone, Louisiana Tech beat a pair of BCS in consecutive weeks on the road - a feat that notable Goliath-slayer Boise State has yet to achieve - as LA Tech collected two wins and $1.6 million in guarantee money.
The two blemishes over the last two years have been an overtime loss at Mississippi State in 2011 and a thrilling 59-57 loss to No. 22 Texas A&M in 2012 that ranked as ESPN's No. 8 game of the 2012 season.
LAST FOUR GAMES VS. BCS TEAMS... TECH DEFENSIVE OR SPECIAL TEAMS TDS
Louisiana Tech's opportunistic team seems to have a heightened sense of opportunity when it faces a team from a Bowl Championship Series conference. In its last four games vs. BCS-level teams (of which Tech has won three), the Bulldogs have scored a touchdown on either defense or special teams.
The first came in Tech's 27-7 win at Ole Miss in 2011 when Chad Boyd returned a fumble 33 yards for a score then came Tech's 52-24 dismantling of Illinois as Antonio Mitchum recovered a fumble in the end zone for six points. The following week, Chip Hester ran back an interception 32 yards for a touchdown.
Then on Oct. 13, 2012, Shakeil Lucas returned an interception five yards for a touchdown against the 22nd-ranked Texas A&M Aggies.
...HIGH-POWERED OFFENSE LED TO WINS, TOO
It wasn't just opportunity knocking that led Louisiana Tech to knock off BCS-level teams in three of its last four meetings but also a high-powered offense that kept the Bulldogs out of reach. In its wins over Ole Miss (2011), Illinois (2012) and Virginia (2012) LA Tech outscored its opponents by 54 points (123-69). For the math whiz kids out there, that is an average winning score of 41-23.
When you add in its 59-57 loss to No. 22 Texas A&M from Oct. 13, the average score differential is 45-32.
ACC? Check. Big Ten? Check. SEC? Check.
Since November 2011, Louisiana Tech has recorded wins over teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference (Virginia), Big Ten Conference (Illinois) and the Southeastern Conference (Ole Miss).
FRESH FACES AT QB
Louisiana Tech is one of 11 teams in the country this year that is entering the 2013 season with zero career quarterback starts on its roster. While the Bulldogs have several QBs on hand, none of them have ever started a collegiate game at the FBS level. The only asterisk to that is Paul Harris, who started several games at FCS level Northwestern State before transferring to Louisiana Tech.
MAYBE WE SHOULD LIST THE RECORDS KENNETH DIXON HASN'T BROKEN...
There obviously was a reason Kenneth Dixon was named to the 2012 Freshman All-America Team and it wasn't just because of his baby-faced good looks.
During his rookie campaign in 2012, the Strong, Ark. native set numerous records on the school, conference and national levels. Most notably were the three NCAA Freshman records held by Marshall Faulk that Dixon broke.
Dixon's 2012 Records
Rushing TDs in a Season by a FR (NCAA) 27 (21, Marshall Faulk, San Diego State, 1991... 21, Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech in 2009)
Overall TDs in a Season by a FR (NCAA) 28 (23, Marshall Faulk, San Diego State, 1991)
Points Scored in a Season by a FR (NCAA) 168 (140, Marshall Faulk, San Diego State, 1991)
KING AND DIXON GO FOR 200+
Before Kenneth Dixon and Tevin King arrived in Ruston, a Tech freshman had only run for over 200 yards once. That quickly changed in 2012 as both Dixon and King achieved that feat.
Dixon rushed for 232 yards against Idaho and King had 204 yards versus Rice.