RUSTON — After surrendering 97 points over the past two weeks, the Louisiana Tech defense had something to prove Saturday night.
The Bulldogs bend-but-don’t-break defense held UTEP to only one score and Louisiana Tech capitalized on a 70-yard TD run from former Haughton star Jared Craft – his second score of the night – to defeat UTEP 28-7 before 22,101 fans at Joe Aillet Stadium.
Craft rushed for 146 yards on only 13 carries, outperforming UTEP’s Aaron Jones, who entered the game as the Conference USA rushing leader. Jones was held in check all night, totaling only 94 yards on 20 carries with a long of 9 yards.
“You know the tailback — Aaron Jones coming in here, that was rushing for 150 yards a game, averaging seven and a half yards carries, and that’s against some pretty good football teams, as well,” said Tech head coach Skip Holtz. “For our defense to hold him to 94 and four yards a carry, I’m just really proud of them.”
Tech took an early two touchdown advantage in the opening quarter. Craft took a swing pass from Ryan Higgins and scampered 17 yards to paydirt with 8:19 to play in the first quarter. The play capped a seven-play, 84-yard drive that took 2:42 off the clock.
Higgins then used his scampering ability to up the lead to 14-0 as the senior quarterback broke the pocket, escaping the UTEP rush and running 22 yards untouched. Jonathan Barnes extra point gave Tech a 14-0 lead with 1:02 to play in the first quarter.
Neither team could muster much in the way of scoring opportunities in the second and third quarters as both defenses kept the opposing offenses out of rhythm.
“But you know what, first half, we threw the ball an awful lot, had some success with it,” Holtz said. “They started playing some games and they had us guessing a little bit. They were bringing the house, playing pure cover zero, or they were dropping everybody out and then only rushing three. Had us in a little bit of a guessing game.”
UTEP had to wait until the fourth quarter to get on the board as the Miners ate up eight minutes off the clock on a 15-play, 58-yard scoring drive that was capped off by Ryan Metz’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Hayden Plinke to cut LA Tech’s lead to 14-7 with 14:55 left in the fourth.
“I thought Ryan Metz, their quarterback, played an excellent job,” said Holtz. “He was 20 of 28 until he came out of the game there at the end, but I thought he did a heck of a job managing the game and doing what he did.”
With the game on the line and the Bulldogs offense struggling, Holtz turned to Craft, who had gained just 23 yards on five carries through three quarters. On a second down and 5-five from the Tech 30-yard line, Craft took a handoff, broke off left tackle and scampered 70 yards giving the Bulldogs a 21-7 lead.
“Well, I mean, because, you know, we are predominately a spread offense in what we do,” Holtz said. “They had a good plan. They had a good plan with what they did and they were willing to play cover zero, and also put them in a position where it hurt them a couple times, too. We ran a little trap play and caught them in cover zero and split the seam and there was nobody left and Jarred Craft went 70 yards for a touchdown.
“So it’s risk and reward when you want to play zero. It helped them a little bit and helped them get a couple three-and-out stops on us. But you know, like I said, I thought the defense, they bent a little bit. They gave up a lot of yards but yet they didn’t break and they kept them out of the end zone except for that one drive. Just really proud of the way they bounced back.”
Craft totaled 123 of his 146 yards in the fourth quarter.
Tech added a late score as Higgins hit Trent Taylor for a 9-yard strike in the back of the endzone with 1:29 to play in the game. Higgins finished the night completing 19-of-28 passes for 191 yards and two scores with zero interceptions. Taylor caught 10 balls for 121 yards and the one score.
Higgins has now gone 13 quarters and 136 pass attempts without throwing an interception.
“And you know what, that goes back to, you take that half — the half-time of the South Carolina State game, we’ve only had one turnover now in really, I believe, three and a half football games,” Holtz said. “We’ve had one turnover.
“I’m proud of what the offense is doing. A big part of that is Jarred Craft, the way he’s protecting it. And Ryan is doing a really good job of not putting the ball in danger. And so we keep doing that, it will give us a chance, but that’s what good offenses and good football teams do. They don’t turn the ball over.”
LA Tech will have a quick turnaround this week with the Bulldogs set to host WKU in Conference USA play at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6 at Joe Aillet Stadium in Ruston.
— Louisiana Tech Sports Information