Louisiana Tech preview: Bulldogs head into 2015 with high expectations

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9/5 Southern 6
9/10 @ W. Kentucky 7
9/19 at Kansas State 2
9/26 FIU 1:30
10/3 La.-Lafayette 6
10/10 @ UTSA 6
10/17 at Miss. State TBA
10/24 Midd. Tenn. 2:30
10/30 @ Rice 7
11/7 North Texas 2:30
11/21 at UTEP TBA
11/28 Sou. Miss. TBA

Bossier Parish players
RB Jarred Craft, Haughton, So.
RB Marlon Seets, Haughton, Sr.
LB Dante Williams, Parkway, Fr.
WR Javonte Woodard, Haughton, Fr.

After winning the Conference USA West Division title and defeating Illinois in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl last season, the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs enter the 2015 season with high expectations.
“I have to keep pinching myself to try and bring down the energy level,” said Louisiana Tech third-year coach Skip Holtz when the players reported to practice last month. “There is a lot of energy right now. There is a lot of excitement. We had a lot of success last year against bowl teams. The players love the white helmets and the uniforms. There is a brand new turf out there. There is a brand new south end zone.”
Louisiana Tech installed FieldTurf in the offseason and the new 70,000-square foot Davison Athletic Complex that encloses the South end zone is ready.
But what’s creating the most excitement is the team that Holtz is expected to put on that turf. Tech was picked to repeat as West Division champs by media at the conference’s media day in July.
The Bulldogs return six starters on offense and six on defense from a team that finished 9-5 last season, including 7-1 in CUSA. Facing a tough early season schedule, Tech started 2-3 and then won five of its last six with the loss coming against Old Dominion in overtime.
The Bulldogs lost a 26-23 heartbreaker to Marshall in the CUSA Championship Game before defeating the Big Ten’s Illinois 35-18 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
One of Tech’s biggest losses from last season is quarterback Cody Sokol. A fifth-year senior, he passed for 3,436 yards and a 30 touchdowns.
Jeff Driskel, another fifth-year senior who transferred from Florida, is the new starter.
Driskel was the top prospect in the nation out of high school but struggled at Florida. Holtz, though, expects big things out of Driskel at Tech.
“He’s got great athleticism in the way that he can run,” Holtz said. “But what’s really impressed me about Jeff is the way he’s come in and earned this team’s respect. He’s been incredibly humble. He’s worked extremely hard.
“I’ve really been impressed watching him read defenses, throwing the ball and making decisions as we went through spring practice. I think he’s a great talent.”
Another great talent, running back Kenneth Dixon, returns for his senior year. Dixon rushed for 1,299 yards and on 254 carries last season. He had 22 rushing TDs and six receiving.
Dixon is the school’s all-time leading rusher and the leading active rusher in the NCAA with 3,410 yards. He has scored 61 career TDs, including 53 rushing.
“You can measure Kenneth — look at height, weight and speed — but the things that really make him special are those intangibles,” Holtz said. “He plays the game with such a passion, such an energy, You’ve got to tackle him because he’s not going down easy. He’s a great competitor. He’s had a great offseason. We were really excited when he decided to come back for his senior year. He’s coming back with a mission.”
Driskel will have three talented receivers to throw to, including preseason All-CUSA selection Trent Taylor. The former Evangel star led the Bulldogs with 64 catches for 834 yards and nine TDs last season.
Also returning are Paul Turner (42-514, 4 TDs) and Carlos Henderson (29-569, 4 TDs), both of whom are capable of making big plays.
Former Haughton star Jarred Craft, who was Tech’s second-leading rusher last season a freshman with 294 yards on 83 carries and four TDs last season, is expected to see playing time again in the backfield along with Blake Martin and newcomer Boston Scott.
Senior center Kirby Wixon also returns.
Tech’s defense led the nation last season in forced turnovers and tied for the lead in interceptions.
Preseason All-Conference selections Vernon Butler and Xavier Woods tops the list of returnees.
Butler, part of a talented returning secondary that includes Adairius Barnes and Kentrell Brice, intercepted six passes and forced three fumbles last season. He was second on the team with 73 tackles.
Butler had 56 tackles, including a team-high 13.5 for loss. Brice led the team with 86 tackles last season.
Blake Baker has been promoted to defensive coordinator. He replaces Manny Diaz, now at Mississippi State.
“I like the nucleus,” Holtz said. “Blake Baker who was in the system last year so you’re going to see a very similar style of defense with the same terminology so you’ll see these players grow another year in that system.”

— Russell Hedges, rhedges@bossierpress.com