RUSTON — When it rains, it pours. It must have felt like a monsoon to Middle Tennessee.
Kenneth Dixon scored four times and Louisiana Tech (5-3, 2-1) never trailed, recording 470 yards of total offense in a 45-16 over the Blue Raiders (3-5, 2-2) in constant rainfall at Joe Aillet Stadium in Ruston Saturday afternoon.
Dixon only ran for 66 yards on 14 carries but reached the end zone three different times on the ground — and surpassing the 4,000 career rushing yard mark — in the game but added another score and 52 yards receiving on two catches in the game.
“I thought he did a really nice job,” Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz said. “He had a couple of really nice runs. On his first couple of runs the linebacker and center went the wrong way on an inside zone play. The inside linebacker was waiting in the hole and Kenneth made him miss. On the touchdown run he broke three or four tackles. He made some things happen. It is great to have him back there.”
Jeff Driskel threw for 294 yards and two touchdowns in an 18-for-24 performance with no interceptions. He connected with eight different receivers in the game, led by Trent Taylor’s eight catches for 97 yards.
Meanwhile, LA Tech’s defense allowed several yards but few points in the game. Brent Stockstill threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns in a 36-for-56 performance but was intercepted twice and sacked three times with one fumble lost. Stockstill, son of Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Stockstill, fell prey to Bryson Abraham’s third pick-six of the season while Beau Fitte registered his first interception of the year.
But the passing game was practically Middle’s offense in its entirety as the Blue Raiders were held to just 33 yards rushing in the game, a season low.
For that, credit a defensive front that allowed only 1.4 yards per carry and registered five tackles for a loss of 40 yards, including the three sacks for a loss of 33 yards.
Nick Thomason led that defensive effort with 11 total tackles (five solo, six assisted) with a solo stop for a loss of two yards while Fitte added six tackles. Jaylon Ferguson, in just his third start of his career, was credited for two sacks for a loss of 23 yards.
“Defensively, I continue to be proud of the front seven and the job that they are doing,” said Holtz. “We have to shore some things up in the passing game. They threw for 381 yards and only rushed for 30 or 40 yards. The front is really doing a nice job but we have to continue to get better with our coverage. When you get a lead, people are going to start throwing the ball on you. Our defense did what they had to do to keep them out of the end zone. They were able to minimize the big plays. I think that was the difference in the game. We had a couple of big plays for points. They had a lot of yards passing, but we were able to keep them out of the end zone for the most part and held them to 16 points.”
Coming into the game, Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz was concerned about the tempo Middle Tennessee could establish but early on the tables were turned. Tech scored in just 1:04 on its second possession on a four-play drive where Dixon punched it in from the five-yard line. After the Blue Raiders responded, Tech’s next possession and score came on a big play as Driskel connected with Carlos Henderson for a 55-yard touchdown pass.
In fact, quick strikes were the name of the game for the Bulldogs as five of the team’s six touchdowns were scored in 1:15 or under. Those quick strikes allowed LA Tech to turn a 14-10 game into a 35-10 game in just over four minutes of game action. That included two Dixon scores — one rushing, one receiving — and Abraham’s 34-yard interception return for a touchdown.
To the Bulldogs’ credit, Tech did not turn the ball over while forcing three changes of possession at Middle’s expense.
But most of the fireworks ended at halftime. Neither team scored in the third quarter with Dixon reaching the end zone for the fourth — and final — time early in the fourth. The teams would trade field goals to finish out the game.
Former Haughton star Jarred Craft rushed for 24 yards on four carries.
The win keeps Louisiana Tech in the driver’s seat of the Conference USA West Division race with a pivotal game at Rice coming up on Friday, Oct. 30 in Houston. That game, set for a 7 p.m. kickoff, will be televised live on FOX Sports 1. The Bulldogs and Southern Miss are tied for the West lead with identical 3-1 conference marks while Rice sits at 2-1 in league play following a 38-31 non-conference win over Army Saturday.
Note: Feature photo courtesy of Louisiana Tech Sports Information (Tom Morris photo)
— Louisiana Tech Sports Information